By Ken Reed

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is making the rounds touting the NFL’s new “heads up tackling” campaign, which will supposedly make youth football safer. The reality is, the campaign, co-sponsored by USA Football, is more of a PR campaign than a safety campaign.

The cold hard fact, the elephant in the NFL’s living room, is you can’t take brain trauma out of football, no matter what you do with your head upon contact. Helmets don’t protect the brain from sloshing around inside the skull like a bowl of jello upon contact. And, whatever a player does with his head when blocking and tackling, he can still suffer a concussion from a blow to the chest that causes a whiplash effect on the brain. For example, if a player is running with the ball and takes a head-on shot to the chest from a defender, the runner’s brain will be jolted inside the skull the same way it would be if the runner had received a head-to-head blow.

“It seems to me the height of grandiosity to assume you can trick people into believing that running into other people at high speeds can be made safe. We’ve gone over in extensive detail the reasons why it’s impossible not to hit with your head on the football field,” says former NFL player Nate Jackson.

Matt Chaney summarizes the current situation — and football’s challenge — well:

“Tackle football has real dangers, especially for kids. In endorsing heads-up football, Goodell is trying to define down the sport’s problems. He wants us to believe that the game is not in existential crisis—that everything will be OK so long as the players follow simple rules. Those kinds of statements from Goodell and others, as well as programs that push a supposedly safe version of football, dupe naïve parents, pose undue risk for trusting juveniles, and raise the legal stakes for vulnerable coaches and hosting entities.”

Football’s in trouble. Deep trouble. It can’t be fixed — at least in any meaningful way that will protect participants from the short-and-long-term consequences of brain trauma.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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