Patterson out to blow the whistle on football concussions

Staff photo by TOM KING Former Alvirne football assistant Jock Pattrson of Hollis hands out mini footballs at games in northern Mass. and Southern NH to raise concussion awareness and promote his solutions to the issue.

NASHUA – He’ll be at a high school football game near you, likely around the entrance to the field or stadium, or the nearby parking lot. Perhaps even more than one on any given autumn weekend.

If you see former Alvirne High School football assistant Jock Patterson, he’s not trying to sell you anything. He will tell you in all sincerity that he’s just trying to get support to make the game of football safer for the players you’re going to see.

The 74-year-old Hollis resident founded a non-profit organization a few years ago called the National Sportsmanship Alliance, but his main focus now is trying to help prevent concussions by having football referees blow a quicker whistle to end a play. He’ll hand out a card or literature on the topic directing people to his website. “I’ll say check this out; I don’t make any statements about concussions, we don’t prevent concussions,” he said. “I can’t say that. But we promote the prevention of injuries. … A quicker whistle.”

Patterson says he’s watched countless hours of football, either on tape or in person as a coach, and feels he’s on to something with a quicker whistle to end plays. He started the N-S-A in the spring in 2014, but wasn’t intending to get into the concussion area.

“I saw what I thought was quite a lack of sportsmanship,” he said. “But once

So he began the National Sportsmanship Alliance, and “once I got rolling in this” he got involved in the concussion awareness movement.

“That took over anything I wanted to do,” he said. “We still promote sportsmanship, but we also promote the prevention of injuries.”

He says he’s not out to revolutionize the game, just simplify the risks.

“It doesn’t have to ruin the play, or prevent the play from ending before it should stop,” Patterson said. “But prevent the extended play, the second, third or fourth hit that is very unecessary. If his momentum has been stopped, the whistle should blow. The problem is, the whistle doesn’t blow until the man is on the ground. That’s led to several people coming into the pile head first.”

And, Patterson says there’s irony in that.

“Most concussions in football occur on defense,” he said. “It’s not the offensive ballplayer being punished. It’s the defensive guy punishing himself trying to stop the ballcarrier.”

Patterson said he’s tried to address the issue with football officials in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but has gotten nowwhere. And somewhat the same with most school officials, who have a different solution for him: Basically he’s been referred to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and has been told by Federation officials they will bring his movement up at their annual February meeting where all the states will be represented.

They have changed the rule where a blocker going downfield can’t come back and blindside block a defensive back or a linebacker who’s about to make a tackle,” Patterson said. “That’s a wonderful change. But if they just put in a change that once the momentum has stopped, blow the whistle.”

Patterson wants to see three areas of concern: Prevent the extended play, prevent the big hit, and prevent the multiple hits. The last one, he said, “is a very common one. I’ve seen this many, many times where the linebacker wraps up the ball carrier and the other defensive players hit him in the knees, kidneys, and as they take him to the ground, hit him in the head.”

Patterson feels he doesn’t quite have the cache to get the attention regionally, but says his association does have about 40 or 50 members,and has also received guidance from from former Alvirne coach Tim Walsh, whose staff he was on.

Patterson also goes around to junior varsity games on Mondays.

“People have been polite,” he said. “Some don’t want to bother with me, and that’s fine. Any time you try to hand something out, most people take it and some want to shy away. That’s fine.”

Patterson has also been an assistant coach at other schools, such as Lowell Catholic (under Walsh) and they worked on “face up” tackling, which is “see what you hit”.

“That’s 15 years before the NFL says you can’t drive with your head,” he said.

He knows there may be resistance to his idea, but he wants to at least plant the seed in people’s minds.

“My goal right now is to at least mention it,” he said. “They might say, ‘This guy Patterson might have the right idea when he says the quick whistle.’ The quick whistle might save football.”

Patterson says in the last four year, football participation numbers around the country have declined by about 250,000.

“Some parents don’t want their kids anywhere near football,” he said. “And some say the rules are getting better and they hope nothing will happen.

“My whole thing is if they blow a quicker whistle, prevent the whole thing from continuing until injuries occur, that could help.”

Patterson draws parallels from another sport he used to coach and officiate in high school and for the NCAA – wrestling. “In wrestling, there’s a thing called ‘potentially dangerous’,” he said. “The referee will blow the whistle, puts one hand behind his head, and says there’s something potentially dangerous, and we’ll start over. If he puts two hands behind his head, there’s something illegal.

“Now in football, when you see the kids been wrapped up, blow the whistle. Because the only thing that can happen from then on, is an injury. If someone in wrestling says ‘Jock, you blew the whistle too quick’, I’ll say ‘But, we prevented an injury, an illegal hold.’

“That’s all I want to do. I want to prevent whatever can be prevented in the average play.”

Patterson says he’ll keep up his campaign until he feels he gets the response he’s looking for. He’s even tried to get the attention of ESPN.

He’s sees the new NHIAA rules that limit preseason practices, etc. as a step forward. Meanwhile, he continues to try to recruit new members for his organization, including businesses. He does charge a membership fee; in return members receive plaque and certificate, with the dollars going back to pay for the mini footballs and materials he gives out, plus apparel with the N-S-A logo on it.

“We take in very little money, not even $1,000 yet,” he said, adding he’s paid for a lot of the materials with his own dollars.

Patterson says he’s received enough response from people at games that he continues his cause.

“One woman said, ‘I’ve been a nurse for 30 years, I’m a grandmother, and more should be done to protect the kids.’ …

“We’ll keep doing this until they put me in a box.”