Kudos to Roger Goodell and the NFL for Youth Football Safety Initiatives
The NFL is taking steps to make youth football safer and should be commended for it.
Fans of the league received a note from commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday afternoon, highlighting two programs that the NFL and its partners have enacted. Between these two programs, thousands of young football players will benefit and live better, healthier lives.
Recently, the league has been getting the exact opposite PR about concussions, as numerous players have joined suit against the NFL for concussions they received while the league (either intentionally or unintentionally, depending on whom you believe) failed to properly warn them of the long-term effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
For years, former players like Dave Pear and widows like Sylvia Mackey have fought to both raise awareness of the post-career dangers of football and to effect change at both the league and union levels.
Until recently, those efforts fell on (mostly) deaf ears. Now, as the "baby boomer" era of football players age with the rest of the country, more and more players are coming forward with difficulties (concussion-related or otherwise) stemming from their playing days.
While "more" could always be done for current and former NFL players dealing with concussions, it is refreshing to see the NFL take the lead in connection with football's future. CTE isn't predictable, but many believe concussions early in life can lead to long-term issues, including susceptibility to subsequent concussions.
USA Football, in connection with the NFL, has launched "Heads Up," a program to teach tackling fundamentals in youth football. As players have gotten bigger, faster and stronger, football has gotten used to "launching" instead of tackling—going for a "SportsCenter highlight" rather than actually stopping the ball-carrier.
The problem, of course, with launching oneself like a missile is that the head is often down, and the crown of the helmet takes the brunt of the blow. This means that not only the person being tackled, but the tackler himself is at major risk for a concussion.
Better tackling, as the "Heads Up" program describes, helps fix that and gives football traditionalists one less thing to whine about.
According to Goodell's email and the USA Football site, the program also helps teach youth football rules, concussion treatment and prevention and how to properly fit one's equipment. Anyone connected with youth football can access information and videos at the site, and they have even released a mobile app.
The NFL has also created NFL Evolution, a site designed to protect its future players in a variety of ways.
The Korey Stringer Institute is a partnership between the NFL, Gatorade and the University of Connecticut dedicated to proper hydration in athletics.
Stringer, who died of heat exhaustion in 2001, was a promising young star for the Minnesota Vikings. His death sent shock waves through football, as high-school and college coaches were forced to rethink the antiquated notion that "water makes you weak."
At NFL Evolution, fans can also learn about the Zackery Lystedt Law, legislation that the NFL is pushing in every state to accomplish the following:
- Athletes, parents and coaches must be educated about the dangers of concussions each year.
- If a young athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he/she must be removed from a game or practice and not be permitted to return to play. When in doubt, sit them out.
- A licensed health care professional must clear the young athlete to return to play in the subsequent days or weeks.
The site also contains useful tools like Youth Concussions FAQ and information about other initiatives and grants the NFL is funding.
As a longtime critic of the NFL's response to concussions and overall player safety, it is tempting to say "too little, too late."
However, as concussions stay in the forefront of the NFL discussion for years to come, the league now appears committed to being part of the solution rather than the problem.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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