The news that DT was in 2nd stage of CTE and likely died due to a seizure from CTE has left many fans saddened but yet not shocked by the news. Back when the concussion issue was being brought to light in the NFL which seems so long ago, the NFL instituted new polices to help lesson the potential for developing CTE. Yet DT played during those times and obviously had issues follow him, it's hard to say how much CTE he had developed over the course of his NFL career versus his entire playing career, also how much the traffic accident he was in also accelerated the issue.
I can remember as a kid playing pop warner football and being at practice and we were practicing kickoff returns, I was on the return team as a blocker, I went to block a kid who probably outweighed me by 20 lbs at the time, and was the first time I was ever knocked out (although briefly), chipped a tooth and took a couple of plays off and then went back in. This was during the mid 80's so coaches didn't see it as an issue (better to get back in and show you were tough than worry about a 13 year olds' health), but I am sure that was one of the many concussions I would pick up in my lifetime. Point being it's hard to say if DT had similar experiences growing up playing football where much of the damage could of been before he every played in College or the NFL. So what are some changes we could make throughout the game to help reduce the potential for concusions.
1st change I would suggest would be no tackle football for kids until they are 16 years old. And with that I would say make some weight restrictions on HS players, the HS I played at in northern California we didn't have any kids over about 260 lbs, which back then was still pretty big. I was a LB/S playing at about 175 lbs for some perspective. But we did play some teams that had offensive lines that averaged over 290 lbs and we played teams in the playoffs that had D1 players that went to schools like Cal, UCLA, and Notre Dame who clearly were more developed. I took more than my share of hits from kids outweighing me a good 30 lbs to 50 lbs more and I am sure I suffered a few concussions along the way, which I never reported, just part of the game at the time. But there needs to be some segregation of kids based on size and development even in HS. I also remember our coaches pitting the JV squad made up of small Sophomores versus the V squad made up of Seniors as a nice cruel joke at the end of camp.
2nd change and this is more radical, but I would suggest getting rid of any hard pads and hard helmets. This sounds counterintuitive, but reality is that all playing with hard pads and helmets is you train your body to use them as weapons because you don't feel the impact to your body. Go look at old pictures of Steve Atwater and the shoulder pads he used to wear, basically used like a suite of armor when hitting someone.
The above pictures is what is a soft Rugby headguard and soft body pads, I would suggest this replaces hard helmets and pads at every level. The added bonus of this from a financial standpoint, is that now equipment costs are dramatically lower for youth sports where kids/parents don't have to shell out a ton of money for pads and helmets every year, likewise traveling costs of shipping helmets and pads gets a lot less for HS teams.
3rd change is going to a Rugby style tackling requirement. For those of you not familiar, that means when you tackle a player you have to make an attempt to wrap up the player, you can't just try to knock the player over or undercut his legs. Likewise the zone where you can tackle a player is from below the shoulders.
This forces the tackler to make sure they are positioning their head away from the body and driving through the player at his midpoint or torso. Which helps protect the tackler and the ball carrier. I know some of this may seem counter intuitive, but having played HS football in the late 80's and collegiate Rugby in the early 90's, I can tell you this is a safer way to play, IMO. Will you likely still get some concussions, yes, anytime you are running at each other there is a potential to knock heads, I likely had one playing Rugby where I hit head to head and had to get stiches and missed a few games, but overall, looking back at my time in both sports, I would say I likely did a lot more damage to my skull playing football due to the sense of protection that the hard helmet gives a player. In fact, it was a badge of honor back in the day how messed up your helmet got with paint streaks from the opposing team's helmets. I know some of that mentality has changed, but it's still exists to some degree. I think for the sake of the players today, we do need to start looking at a holistic approach that encompasses a solid change in the rules but still preserves one of the better aspects of the game in tackling.