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Pioneer Editorial: Not so fast, football season is just starting

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Well, the national holiday is over.

No, we don’t mean Christmas. Not New Year’s, either.

We mean the national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday.

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And while Seattle’s drubbing of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII officially ends the National Football League season, it doesn’t mean football is over for us in Bemidji.

Far from it.

On Friday, the first-ever Bemidji Axemen game will be held in the Sanford Center.

The Axemen are the newest members of the IFL, or Indoor Football League. In layman’s terms, the IFL is akin to the minor leagues in baseball. IFL players are typically right out of (or a few years removed from) college and are hoping to make it to the Canadian Football League or even the NFL.

The style of play is up-tempo, pass-oriented and hard-hitting. Check out some highlights on the IFL website of www.goifl.com.

The Axemen recently started training camp and will be practicing all week in preparation for their first opponent, the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Titans.

But the most important step the Axemen took this past week went beyond the Xs and Os on the gridiron. It was when when the players took their baseline tests conducted by medical staff from Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. The tests are used if a player later suffers a head injury; he’ll be asked to take the tests again to gauge his injury and recovery time.

A lot of attention this past NFL season was on concussions and traumatic brain injuries of current and former players. The league is facing lawsuits by some former players alleging it didn’t do enough to protect them from brain injuries; there are also allegations that suicides by former NFL players are tied to traumatic brain injuries.

A controversial study on the link between head injuries and football was released this past year, as well.

While not loud, listen and you can hear the undercurrent: there are fears for the future of pro football. Hard to believe when you realize that pro football — by a wide margin — is the most popular sport in the U.S.

Facing all this, the NFL in recent years has altered the rules for blows to the head. The league has also instituted more stringent guidelines for when players can return after a concussion and worked on different safety features for helmets.

The game of football has evolved over the years. Face it: the players are bigger, stronger and faster than they were just a decade or so ago. But medical science has also evolved and we now know much more about concussions and traumatic brain injuries — and what causes them.

That attention has gone beyond the NFL, as well. Almost all schools, from elementary to high school to colleges and universities, now conduct baseline tests for athletes — not just in football — to have that tool in place in case an injury occurs. Granted, football garners the lion’s share of attention, but other sports such as baseball (ask Joe Mauer about concussions) are taking head injuries much more seriously.

We look forward to a fun and energetic inaugural Axemen season in Bemidji. There’s eight home games on the schedule, and we hope fans turnout in droves to watch this brand of exciting football. We hope for a winning season in year one; heck, let’s dream big and look forward to the playoffs and the United Bowl (the IFL version of the Super Bowl).

But first and foremost, let’s make sure it’s a safe season.

Go Axemen.

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