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Patrick Hruby

Heads Up Their ...

What Roger Goodell's youth football safety letter leaves out

Sports on Earth

Editor’s note: earlier this week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took to the airwaves to discuss the league’s annual draft and promote “Heads Up” football, a youth safety initiative that Goodell claims will teach children how to “play the game safely.” The comissioner also released an open letter on the initiative to NFL fans – and below, Sports on Earth writer Patrick Hruby, a vocal critic of the program, imagines what the first, unedited draft of the letter looked like:

To NFL Fans:

During the 2013 NFL Draft, young men will see their dreams realized as they are selected to become professional football players for an average career of 3.2 years. And countless younger football players who will grow into cheaper, healthier replacements will be watching them. No matter what level they play, all football players except those in college whose totally legitimate safety concerns we aren’t addressing should be taught the proper fundamentals and know that parents not worrying about their safety because that could dry up our talent and fan feeder system and threaten the long-term viability of our multibillion-dollar television contracts is the top priority as they participate in the sport they love.

That is why the NFL is proud to partner with USA Football to try to keep Congress off our case announce the national launch of Heads Up Football, a comprehensive youth football initiative whose aim is to broker lasting Middle East peace discover additional North Korean unicorn lairs build a working U.S.S. Enterprise take the head out of the game possibly by creating detachable heads you can leave on the sideline, like the snap-off noggins on little Lego men, but in the meantime, don’t think too hard about what it means that even the 6-year-old players are still wearing helmets. Your credulity support is a vital component.

Heads Up Football was created with direction from independent football and medical experts, the kind of experts that our own concussion committee ignored and attempted to discredit for years, and that one of our current committee members is still casting climate change denial-style doubt on. All coaches in a Heads Up Football league must be certified via USA Football’s nationally accredited Level 1 coaching certification course, which sounds even more official, impressive and reassuring if you read it out loud. These leagues also appoint a Player Safety Coach, who is trained by USA Football. Every coach, parent and player affiliated with a Heads Up Football league receives training on the following subjects:

* Heads Up Tackling, which teaches tackling in what we would like both parents and potential trial jurors to think is a safer and more effective way even though some former players don’t think that makes any sense given that football tackles are dynamic and violent physical snowflakes, and besides, football already tried “proper tackling” as a head trauma cure-all in the 1970s, a strategy which has gotten us to exactly where we are right now. The head is always up in order to lessen the risk of head or neck injuries which can still happen with devastating consequences for children given the inherent violence of the sport and the fact that boys as young as eight years old hit each other with the physical force of college players;

*Concussion recognition and response in which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols are learned because let’s be real, this is a collision sport and there are going to be both concussions and subconcussive brain trauma regardless of how you try to tackle, so let’s hope youth football coaches can become as good at spot-diagnosing a notoriously difficult-to-identify medical condition as the trained, independent sideline neurologists NFL players are getting for their own sideline concussion recognition and response because again, let’s be real, this is a multibillion-dollar collision sport and professional players are slightly more valuable corporate assets than your 10-year-old Pop Warner-playing son; and

*Proper equipment fitting to ensure the correct fitting of a player’s helmet, which prevents skull fractures but not concussions, despite what some manufacturers have insinuated in their marketing campaigns, and shoulder pads, which prevent neither skull fractures nor brain trauma, but still sounds like something we should do.

Piloted in three markets in 2012, Heads Up Football will expand to more than 900 youth leagues across all 50 states in 2013. Many of these leagues will receive the guidance of Heads Up Football Ambassadors, former NFL players not including the more than 4,000 currently suing over brain trauma who will collaborate with the league’s coaches, administrators, player safety coach, parents and players to help ensure that the game is played the right way, because if we define football-induced brain trauma problem as the accidental outcome of improper tackling technique as opposed to the inevitable result of the intentional collisions that are part and parcel of tackle football, then horrifying injuries and ruined lives are not the fault of a risky sport that one of our own medical advisors says children under age 14 shouldn’t be playing, but rather the fault of irresponsible people who fail to play it “the right way,” whatever that actually means.

We want to institute an Oz-like public relations illusion, complete with slick videos a culture of safety at every level of the game, because “culture,” unlike “physics” and “biology,” is a term we can define, massage and use to control the frame the public uses to think about football-induced brain trauma and we encourage youth coaches, players and parents to join us and keep buying merchandise, too.

We can play a part in making the game seem safer, in part because our lawyers have advised us not to use the term “safe,” even though USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck has asserted that “there is no question that the game can be played safely and is safe, as long as it is taught properly and the players execute it properly.” If something bad happens, sue him! As an NFL fan, here is what you can do to make a difference. If you are the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend or neighbor of a youth football player, tell them to think long and hard about the very real lifelong risks inherent to the sport, and weigh them against the fleeting minor glory of participating in a pee wee or high school football game, no matter how important the entertainment-starved adults around you make it seem about Heads Up Football and encourage their coaches or guardians to visit to sign their league up as a Heads Up Football league. If you are a youth football coach or commissioner, we invite you to join the Heads Up Football public relations campaign movement by clicking here.

We are committed to football that makes a group of wealthy Welfare King owners even richer fans love we’re not stupid, we know you love the violence as long as you don’t have to feel empathetic or God forbid indirectly responsible about the health costs to the players and the safety the players deserve at all levels of the game. Your support is critical.

Thanks for your help, and we hope you have adequate family health insurance and competent nearby emergency room staff enjoy the NFL Draft.


Roger Goodell

Commissioner, National Football League

Read the original article at Sports on Earth