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NFL Commissioner speaks out on head injuries

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Fairfield Pop Warner believe a hands on approach to  limit head injuries. Toward that end, Goodell visited with Fairfield Pop Warner at Sullivan Field to discuss with coaches, players and parents the Heads Up Football program being adopted by all levels of football. (Photo by John Kovach)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Fairfield Pop Warner believe a hands on approach to limit head injuries. Toward that end, Goodell visited with Fairfield Pop Warner at Sullivan Field to discuss with coaches, players and parents the Heads Up Football program being adopted by all levels of football.
(Photo by John Kovach)

Among those holding tackling dummies while young players practiced Wednesday, Aug. 28, was the most powerful man in football.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Fairfield Pop Warner practice at Sullivan Field, promoting “Heads Up Football.”
The NFL and USA Football are working to get more programs, such as Fairfield Pop Warner, and leagues to adopt the techniques designed to teach young players to keep their heads out of danger’s way when making a tackle in an effort to reduce the number of concussions.
Early in his tour, Goodell joined a coach in holding a bag, as young players practiced punching through their arms, lifting their eyes skyward and rolling their hips forward while tackling padded bags.
Dave Houghton, athletic director for Fairfield Pop Warner, credited Goodell “For putting his muscle, and that of the National Football League, behind youth football,” and trying to change the techniques and culture.
“This is a much safer way to play the game,” Houghton told the assembled parents after Goodell, trailed by news crews, NFL Films, parents and high school students, walked around Sullivan Field visiting with each team.
Goodell congratulated the program on training its coaches and players in “Heads Up Football,” and fielded questions from parents, some of whom had played when they were younger.
In the years since, said Goodell, the knowledge and means of dealing with concussions have also evolved.
The next steps, he said, were advancing “Heads Up Football” to high school and subsequent levels, up to the NFL.
“It’s going to change the culture of football and the way the game is played,” Goodell said.
When taught the techniques from a young age, Goodell said, players adopt the lessons learned with little effort.
“Heads Up,” Goodell explained, stresses moving the eyes up, which puts the neck in a stronger position and keeps the head out of the collision.
“We want them getting back to using the shoulder,” the commissioner said. “You’re supposed to use the shoulder. You’re not supposed to use the head.”
Goodell’s visit came the same day that USA Today published a story rhetorically asking if “Heads Up Football” was more a public relations campaign and a means of making the league look proactive in the face of a lawsuit filed by some 4,500 former NFL players alleging the league knew, but did not disclose, the risk of concussions.
A settlement between the parties was reached Thursday, Aug. 29, with the NFL being spared acknowledging any guilt. Terms must still be approved by a federal judge.
Players and their families report cases of dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
The settlement would cover all 18,000 former NFL players and totals $765 million, the vast majority of which would go to compensate athletes with certain neurological ailments.
It also would set aside $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for medical research, according to the Associated Press.
Goodell said in Fairfield the night before the agreement was announced that players at the NFL level were leading more with their head because the helmet was the hardest part of their protective gear.
When a concussion is suspected in a young player, Goodell and Dr. Richard Bercik of Fairfield Pop Warner said, seeking quick diagnosis, then allowing proper time to heal, are crucial to full recovery.
Goodell, who said he played football starting in fourth grade, told the parents his concussions were suffered playing basketball.
“Heads Up Football” was based in part on recommendations found on the Centers for Disease Control website, cdc.gov. Goodell recommended the site to parents seeking additional information on concussions.
While head injuries have been in the spotlight, Goodell said the NFL is working to promote safety in other ways, such as promoting proper nutrition and hydration, and deterring the use of performance enhancing substances among players on all levels.
The promotion of safety, Goodell said, also extends to off-field depiction of the game.
While some video games once rewarded violent hits that may have at least skirted the rules, Goodell said the NFL and Electronic Arts, a partner with the league, make certain rule changes are included in updated versions of the games.
The goal of the video game creators, Goodell said, is an accurate depiction of NFL play.
Goodell said the league is also asking television networks not to sensationalize illegal hits, but “they are news organizations.”
While the game of football has faced increasing scrutiny, it’s not the first time the safety of the game has been questioned.
In 1905, Goodell told parents, there were 18 deaths among college players. Coaches were summoned to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt, who threatened to ban the game.
Helmets and the forward pass were part then of the evolution of the sport.
Goodell said when he played in the 1970s, changes in equipment were made in response to neck and knee injuries.
Players, cheerleaders and coaches were gathered before Goodell left. The commissioner shared with them the lessons of determination, and the will to get up when knocked down, that many take from the game.

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