NEWS

USA Football Month: Roger Goodell emphasizes safety in football

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

Roger Goodell has been the Commissioner of the NFL since 2006. He also has been involved in all aspects of the game, including USA Football and the Heads Up Football program.

To conclude NFL Evolution's coverage of USA Football Month, Goodell answered a few questions via email about his involvement in the Heads Up Football program, his interactions at Moms Clinics and how the culture of the game is changing.

Heads Up Football is entering its third season. How would you evaluate the program and has it properly addressed the safety issues facing football?

In just the second year of the program, more than 5,500 youth leagues signed up to become Heads Up Football leagues. That's nearly 1 million players, almost half the youth football players in the county. And beginning this fall, all Pop Warner leagues will also be Heads Up leagues, which is a great development.

That, to me, speaks to the real need for a program like this. Coaches want to teach proper techniques. Parents want to know that their children are learning football fundamentals and are being coached by individuals who put their safety first. Heads Up Football meets those needs.

Coach Pete Carroll created a video on the Seahawks' tackling system that emphasizes the same goal as Heads Up -- keep your head out of the game. Coach Carroll has made that video available to everybody here.

As parents, our first priority is keeping our kids safe. And we want them to gain confidence and understand the importance of values like teamwork and determination. We see firsthand the benefits our kids gain from playing team sports like football. There's so much to gain by playing football, which is why Heads Up Football is an important program.

When you attend Moms Clinics, what do mothers ask you about the Heads Up Football program?

The Moms Clinics are great educational events. We see so many moms walk away feeling relieved that they understand the fundamentals of the game better. The events give them confidence to go back to their communities and families and speak up when it comes to their child's safety.

Their favorite part of the event, bar none, is the Heads Up tackling portion. This is not a demonstration. They don't watch. They participate and practice for themselves. And they love it. By practicing the skills, they know that they'll be able to reinforce Heads Up tackling with their sons, and for those moms whose sons are not yet in Heads Up leagues, they understand why it's so important.

They go back home armed with the right information to speak with their children, their children's coaches and their communities.

Are players buying into the changes that reduce head contact?

The culture is changing, no doubt. Players are aware that proper tackling can help protect them, and with many of the safety-related rules changes we've made, they're being more mindful of their tackling technique and keeping their head out of the tackle when possible. Culture change doesn't happen overnight. But we know that if youth players are learning proper fundamentals from the start, those skills will stay with them. The same is true of professional players. The more they focus on fundamentals and remain mindful of proper tackling, the more instinctual it will become.

And no one knows that better than the players and the coaches. Pete Carroll had a great quote about this. He said the awareness of the players and the way they play is really changing and that we're going in the right direction and we're making the right choices. Who would know better than the head coach of the Super Bowl champions?

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