10 Ways the NFL Can Help Protect Youth Football Players
The NFL has found itself in hot water over the long-term health of the players. In order to counteract these problems, the league needs to prevent the issue before it starts.
Therefore, the work must begin long before the players ever make it through a training camp and realize their dreams. It starts at the youth level.
The NFL is one of the most powerful organizations in the country. There is practically no limit to what they could accomplish with some concentration and guidance.
Thus, here are 10 ways the NFL could help the kids who long to join its ranks.
The NFL Needs to Continue the Equipment Effort
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The NFL isn't subject to the same economic pressures as the rest of the world.
Americans may still be suffering through under- and unemployment, but football continues to bring in droves of revenue.
The first way that the league can make an immediate impact on the safety of kids is to provide proper equipment.
The NFL has joined with other organizations to create a nice start by donating a combined $1 million to distribute 3,000 new helmets to youth football players. Undoubtedly, this is a step in the right direction.
However, as mentioned above, the NFL is a financial juggernaut. The league could easily provide more funds to ensure the protection of their future players.
Further gifts will have a positive effect throughout financially strapped communities. And if all the owners can consider is the cash involved, perhaps they should recognize that such preventative measure could save millions in future lawsuits.
Education: How the Players Play
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Whether NFL players want to acknowledge it, kids all over the country look up to them.
Their every move will be imitated by youths on playgrounds in every city.
Therefore, the combatants needs to understand the impact that their style of play can have on children.
When James Harrison launches himself headfirst into another player, it will be noticed. Then the same glorified scenario will be replayed numerous times over on television and the Internet.
The exposure will then cause kids to create their own reincarnation of the hit.
Just like a business, everything starts at the top. The pros are at the height of the food chain and set the tone for every level beneath them.
They need to take care to ensure that the example set is a positive and life-sustaining one.
Education: How the Players Talk
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
NFL players train in bravado. Football is a tough sport and requires a certain fearlessness.
Unfortunately, that same aggression leads them to say things in public that can affect the youth.
The NFL needs to ensure that players are thinking about the ramifications of what they are saying.
While it may be sound strategy to go after another player's injury, that tactic should certainly not be passed on to the kids.
The strategy of exposing another's weakness will probably never be eradicated from the game, but it certainly doesn't need to be made public.
Again, kids are impressionable. They do not need these ideas put in their heads.
Education: How the Players React to Concussions
Leon Halip/Getty Images
The players need to be sure that they say the right things when dealing with concussions.
They can express their desire to get back on the field, but temper it with statements about doing the right thing for their health.
The pressure to return quickly from a concussion is not a remnant of some far-off past. These types of things were happening as recently as five years ago.
When the pros start talking about it seriously after sustaining a head injury, the kids will surely follow.
If any group is capable of making something cool, it is professional football players.
Education: High School and Youth Coaches Must Teach the Proper Techniques
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The biggest concern among youth and high school coaches needs to be the proper hitting technique.
The expression "put a hat on a hat" needs to be retired from the coaching lexicon.
As part of the youth helmet exchange, the responsible organizations are providing education to the coaches on the appropriate topics.
Many memories are filled with high school running backs leading with their heads or safeties aiming for another player's dome. It must be remembered that the biggest issue is repetitive head trauma.
The earlier it starts, the more likely that long-term injuries will be sustained. The league must be proactive at the youth levels about how to hit.
The Referees Must Remain Vigilant
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Even the referees have a role to play in this saga.
In a way, they are the first line of defense.
When a player launches himself into the head of a defenseless player, the flag needs to be thrown. The same goes with any other type of illegal, extracurricular violence.
In addition, refs must take action when they see a player get his "bell rung."
If the league gives them the authority to require an independent doctor's examination before entering the game, the importance of the issue will really hit home with the American public.
Granted, that idea will open the refs up to new criticisms. However, some basic training should be able to provide them with enough information to be able to discern when a concern is legitimate.
Roger Goodell Must Continue to Dole out Punishments
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The league must continue to hammer the message home to their own players and those who play on Fridays and Saturdays.
The easiest way to do this is with public penalties for unacceptable behavior.
Ndamukong Suh, rightly or wrongly, became a poster child for unnecessary violence, along with James Harrison.
When players of that caliber get hit with suspensions, people take notice.
The usual fallout are multiple articles and talking heads breaking down the intricacies of the act. That coverage will continue to illustrate to the kids that this type of action will only result in negative consequences.
The NFL Needs to Reach out to the Parents
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The NFL has done great things through its Play 60 campaign.
The program reaches out to kids to encourage them to engage in outdoor activities.
Now the NFL must make a new effort to reach the parents of youth football participants.
Pro players are de facto role models for many kids. Still, the main presence in a young player's life who can teach them the proper way to play is his family.
The parents need to learn from the NFL the proper techniques of the game.
If a child is in danger of getting grounded for spearing someone on the field, the youth will be much less likely to do it.
The NFL Should Fund as Much Research as Possible
The NFL and the NFLPA have recently pledged a total of $100 million for research over the next decade.
Such a move will hopefully bring about more understanding regarding repetitive head trauma.
Roger Goodell stated that a large chunk of that cash was to be earmarked for brain studies. Again, this is all positive.
However, the two organizations must also help those studying what are deemed fringe problems.
Every idea or theory starts somewhere. Just a decade ago, no one was talking about the problems football caused in the brain.
Neither association should let the next problem catch them off-guard. The only way to ensure that doesn't happen is by exploring all possibilities.
That requires cash.
Keep the Lawmakers and Authority Figures Honest
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The American public has had little success keeping the lawmakers and authority figures of this country honest.
That's not a knock on any particular individual so much as an indictment of the entire system.
Hopefully, the economic muscle of the NFL can do just that.
Along with the NFL's announcement regarding funding, Roger Goodell mentioned that the league is pushing each state to create concussion guidelines for youth sports.
Again, this is a great start, but they must remain vigilant. Politicians and congressional bodies love to be in the forefront when it comes to the current big issue.
What will they do when no one is talking about head trauma anymore?
The NFL must stay on top of the politicians and every other responsible adult (read: parents) to ensure the health of their future employees.