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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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