Why Roger Goodell invited me to a lunch meeting yesterday
I was asked by NFL staff to attend NFL & USA Football Youth Health & Safety Meeting with about twenty others (concussion safety/parent/sports-social media/press/bloggers) to meet with Roger Goodell and Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football, along top experts in the field of Youth Sports Medicine – Dr. Gerard Gioia Ph. D, Children’s National Medical Center; Division Chief, Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth PsyD, ABPP; Head Injury Consultant, Chicago Bears; Neuropsychologist, and Kelly Sarmiento from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Big name people. I was ready for a first-class PR presentation about how great youth football is and they don’t really need to change… and that is not what I found.
Instead there was heartfelt sincerity by everyone in the room – almost all parents including Dad Goodell and Dad Hallenbeck of youth-sports-playing kids. And for almost two hours, we talked as just parents… Titles fall away when you share about your children and your fears & hopes for them.
No one has a golden ticket to protect his/her child against a concussion. Despite his paycheck, Goodell cannot buy a better helmet for his child than I can. Despite his sports connections, Hallenbeck cannot protect his kids better than I can my own from a concussion. We are all vulnerable when it comes to our children and head injuries. Sadly with concussions, there is truly a level playing field – everyone’s children are potentially at risk on playing fields, playgrounds, gyms, backyards, pools and streets. There is no perfect sport to avoid injury, and there are even concussions in golf and crew (I know of these personally). And beyond sports, there are concussions in biking, running, horseplay, sledding, climbing trees, backyard fun, etc. We know that the answer is not found in bubble wrapping our kids. There is too much fun and excitement and yummy stuff to be found in the world and especially in sports, so off our children go to the playing fields, the basketball courts, and the baseball diamond.
So is there anything we can do to help our kids in any youth sports? Yes, and the NFL with USA Football want to lead the pack and be the sport that stepped up first to make a difference in a real way. USA Football believes that in educating parents to know all the same information as the coaches about safety measures, correct tackling methods and proper equipment fittings. And along with those things as youth sport parents, we need to know how best we can parent on the sidelines, or prepared on the car ride home, or the next morning after a blow that may cause a concussion, to be the best parents we can be and respond if our child needs us.
Both Goodell and Hallenbeck spoke as the leaders that they are about their personal commitment to educate parents and young athletes “about the importance of protecting their bodies and provide them with the resources necessary to do so.” The program they presented, the smart phone App I got to see, and the medical people they have on their team, all combined to be a powerful force to change youth football for the better… and hopefully be an example of a concussion initiative for other sports – soccer, cheering leading, baseball, hockey, BMX, skateboarding, etc. If today was just a preview of what is to come, we will raise a sport-loving, football-playing generation of kids who will wonder how we ever managed to survive without iPhones, TV remotes and concussion-aware football programs.