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Letter from AFM: 2014 - Was Something Missing?by: John Gallup
Editor and Publisher
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Except for the NFL and college playoffs, the 2014 season is complete. Looking back, in high school, college and the NFL this season we saw great individual and team efforts, stunning upsets, dominant victories, miracle comebacks and record-setting performances. Everything we’ve come to expect from the game in the modern era.
But something was missing this year compared to the recent past. That’s the relentless and overwhelmingly negative media coverage of the dangers of football, particularly in terms of head trauma. We didn’t have as much gloom-and-doom reporting this season and, frankly, that was refreshing.
Not that media coverage of the hazards of the game hasn’t served to elevate awareness of problem areas that needed to be addressed. It has. And as we have said before, safer football is better football for everyone.
But today, with every major organization in the game implementing new rules and new initiatives designed to keep players safe, media coverage is less alarmist than it has been in recent years. Has the number of concussions gone down this year? That won’t be known for some time. But it seems that football, largely due to the efforts of those who control it, is becoming a safer sport. And that’s critical to the game’s long-term survival.
Coaches, in particular, are taking the lead by instructing players on safer blocking and tackling methods designed to keep the head out of the game. They are on the front lines of the player safety issue and they’re meeting the challenge of protecting players from serious injury.
One of the biggest changes is how certain big hits are perceived. Once celebrated by fans and announcers, today’s bone-jarring hits on “defenseless” players are criticized and penalized. As a viewer, I’m pleased when a defender is “disqualified” because of a brutal and completely unnecessary helmet-to-helmet hit on a quarterback long after the pass was thrown. That’s intent to harm, and there’s no place for it in football.
The NFL, NCAA, National Federation of High School Associations and youth organizations have all implemented rules that come down hard on such offenses. But it doesn’t stop there. High schools, youth teams and some colleges have also placed restrictions on contact during practice. Youth coaches must meet standards for certification which include instruction on safe tackling technique. Equipment manufacturers are developing products designed to enhance player safety.
All of these safety initiatives are important to protect players and reassure parents and the public. But it’s the awareness among coaches at all levels that player safety is their number one priority that’s more important. We know from our research that the vast majority of coaches believe this. And that, in our opinion, is the single biggest factor that will make football an increasingly safer game.
We will continue to advocate for player safety and give coaches information that they can use to protect players in games, in practice, in the weight room and in the locker room. And we hope that, as injuries in football decline, we’ll see fewer and fewer media reports that question the future of the game.
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