By Ken Reed

Here’s the bottom line truth about football: You can’t take the head out of the game.

Nevertheless, the NFL wants youth sports parents to believe you can. Their propaganda campaign for USA Football called “Heads Up,” tries to build the illusion that you can actually take the head out of the game of football.

Former NFL player Nate Jackson calls the Heads Up program “shameless. You can’t remove the head from play in the football field. The only way to remove the head from the tackle is to remove your body from the field.”

The NFL has invested $1.5 million into the Heads Up program and is the program’s sole funder. There’s no scientific evidence the Heads Up program prevents brain trauma, concussions, or short or long-term brain damage.

What we do know is that the head is a significant part of a violent game. We also know that while helmets do a great job preventing skull fractures, they do a terrible job preventing concussions. The reason is that the brain is like Jello in a bowl. Contact causes the brain to slosh up agains the side of the skull in a whiplash effect similar to Jello sloshing up against the side of the bowl upon impact. There isn’t a helmet that can prevent the sloshing effect that goes on inside the skull. Moreover, football players can sustain concussions without even taking a blow to the head. For example, if a runner takes a vicious shot to the chest, a concussion can occur from the whiplash effect of the head being whipped around.

One part of the Heads Up program that is positive is teaching coaches concussion awareness. That can help coaches identify potential concussions and help them understand when to get players out of a game or practice, preventing further brain damage such as Second Impact Syndrome, which can result in death.

However, programs like this should be led by third parties without a vested interest in the game, not the NFL and its propaganda arm USA Football.

“The reality is you can’t put this in the hands of the NFL to govern,” said Michael Oriard, a former Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman and Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Oregon State University who recently wrote a cultural history on the role of the head in football. “Even with the best possible intentions, the corporate NFL has its needs and interests. You don’t let the tobacco industry regulate what’s safe in terms of smoking, but parents are kind of in that position here.”

Jackson calls the Heads Up program a shameless PR move by an organization interested in “profit, profit, profit.” He wants an honest approach to the issue of brain trauma in youth football.

“I think that it’s important to have a conversation with parents in this country about really what they’re risking with their kids,” says Jackson.

So true. But you can count the NFL out when it comes to having an honest, realistic conversation about the dangers of youth football.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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