"I spend more time on health and safety than any other issue."
~~ Roger Goodell, National Football League Commissioner
Last week I attended a luncheon in New York City hosted by the National Football League and its youth football partner, USA Football. In Part Two of my "Summer of Football" blog series, I will focus on some of the important information I took away from the luncheon.
Much of what the speakers told the gathering of thirty or so journalists, bloggers, and experts, including a lot of what they said parents needed to know about concussions and football safety, is advice that MomsTEAM has been giving parents for years, including:
- recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussion;
- educating their child on the importance of honest self-reporting;
- appreciating what a properly fitted helmet can and can't do;
- being skeptical of product claims, such as those which the subject of the FTC's settlement with mouth guard manufacturer, Brain-Pad;
- appropriately weighing the risks and rewards of playing a particular sport and whether to retire from a contact or collision sport;
- ways to reduce their child's risk of injury, including overuse injuries, such as by not playing on two or more teams in the same sports season;
- making sure their child's coach puts the safety of players above winning, and talking to the coach or going over their head to the league commissioner where necessary; and
- knowing their state's concussion safety law.
So what really stuck with me more than anything was the statement by Roger Goodell that he spent more time on health and safety than any other issue. While I shouldn't have been surprised at his admission, given the lawsuits that have been filed against the league by former players, and the efforts by N.F.L. to protect the safety of current players, what impressed me the most was what the league and USA Football have done and were doing to improve health and safety of all who play football, from the pros down to the youth level, which fall into 6 general categories:
- Research: Goodell told us that the N.F.L. has spent over $100 million on football-related medical research;
- Equipment: The league is partnering with USA Football, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and helmet manufacturers to replace outdated helmets worn by young football players in underserved communities; the pilot program is slated to replace 4,000 program in its first year;
- Education: In addition to talking about USA Football's Heads Up initiative for teaching proper tackling as a way to reduce the risk of concussion and catastrophic head and neck injuries, Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck gave us a sneak peak at a very promising new smart phone app for coaches that will go on sale as soon as it is approved by the folks at Apple. The N.F.L. is also a big supporter of the Centers for Disease Control's efforts in raising concussion awareness among coaches and parents. The C.D.C.'s Kelly Sarmiento told us about its plans to introduce a "Heads Up: Know Your Concussion ABCs" in time for school this fall, and a new program coming soon which will allow schools and teams to add their colors to handouts (although the CDC no longer sends out concussion kits, so it's best if team administrators (a/k/a 'team moms') print them directly off the CDC website).
- Rules: Not much was said on this, but the rule changes implemented by the N.F.L. in recent years, such as moving kickoffs from the 30 to 35 yard line, and banning helmet to helmet contact of defenseless players have been well-publicized and seem to be cutting down on concussions and serious head and neck injuries.
- Advocacy: I will have more to say on this subject in Part Three of the Summer of Football blog series, but the N.F.L. deserves kudos for lobbying in favor of passage at the state level of Zackery Lystedt Laws. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws since the league began its lobbying effort, and the N.F.L. promised to continue to lend its support until similar legislation is adopted in every state. For where each state stands with respect to concussion safety laws, click here.
- General health and safety: A long list of accomplishments and ongoing initiatives here, including
- NFL Play It Safe! (educational books and posters about strength conditioning, first aid, nutrition, and psychological health which were distributed to 15,000 high school football programs and more than 10,000 youth football organizations across the country, and available on the USA Football Website;
- ATLAS and ATHENA: $2.6 million to Oregon Health & Science University's nationally-acclaimed Athletes Training & Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) and Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) programs to promote healthy living and reduce the use of steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs among high school athletes, which have reached more than 30,000 high school students and 800 coaches;
- Gatorade and Heat and Hydration Safety: N.F.L. support for Gatorade's development of a heat safety kit and Beat the Heat Campaign to educate athletes, parents and coaches about proper hydration in sports;
- NFL PLAY 60: launched by the N.F.L. in 2007, the program tackles childhood obesity by encouraging kids to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. The league has since joined forces with partners such as the American Heart Association, KaBOOM!, National Dairy Council and United Way to create school programs and build new places for kids to be active, and is collaborating with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign.
Clearly, no matter what you may think about what the league has done, or not done, in the past about health and safety, these initiatives deserve praise.
In Part Three, I will focus on where we have come on football safety, where we are, and where we are headed, discuss the results of MomsTEAM's poll of football parents (over 264 responses so far!), the N.F.L.'s responses to a series of questions that I had hoped to but was unable to ask last week at the luncheon in New York City, and suggest some new safety initiatives the league might consider for the future.
For Part One in this blog series, click here.
Brooke de Lench is the Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com and the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports