MADISON––Because of recent scrutiny on injuries and concussions, the landscape of football is undergoing change right before fans' very own eyes, not just at the professional level but all the way down to youth football.
There's a trickle-down effect going on and fans are curious about the future of the game if Wednesday night's stop on the Green Bay Packers' 2012 Tailgate Tour at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison was any indication.
During a question and answer session, a fan wanted to know wide receiver Jordy Nelson's opinion on children playing tackle football as young as the third-grade level, knowing that Nelson has a two-year old son of his own.
"It's going to be hard for me to let Royal (Nelson's son) play at a young age," replied Nelson. "I actually got into a debate about this with John Kuhn the other day. I don't think it's necessary, honestly.
"To me, I don't think it's necessary. Everyone talks about keeping the head up when you hit. Those kids, with all that gear on, they're going to get tired. The first thing, when anyone gets tired when you play football, you drop your head. I think there's way you can teach fundamentals, you can teach how to play football, you can teach everything about football, and they don't have to hit at such a young age."
Health and Player Safety in the Media
In just the past several months, several high-profile news-making events have gotten serious public attention.
There have been the suicides of former Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau and other former NFL players, which has led to a debate whether brain trauma caused by playing football has had any influence in the decision of these players to take their own lives.
There was the announcement and subsequent suspensions involving the New Orleans Saints and an alleged bounty program they ran that paid players for intentionally injuring opponents, of which Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre were targets. Current Packers defensive lineman Tony Hargrove––a former member of the Saints––has been one of four players suspended by the NFL, pending a potential appeal.
There are lawsuits filed by former players literally numbering in the thousands against the NFL and their claims that the league didn't properly protect players against concussions. Many former Packers players are among those thousands.
Packers Hall of Fame running back Dorsey Levens is producing and directing a documentary film titled Bell Rung about the health issues former professional football players face.
Former Packers linebacker George Koonce just submitted his doctoral dissertation at Marquette University about players transitioning to life after football and how playing in the NFL is detrimental to a player's well-being.
Add all these events and incidents up, and it's clear football is entering a new era where injuries are not to be taken lightly. Coaches, doctors and league figureheads can and are being held liable for the safety of their players.
Rule Changes in the NFL
Coming back to the Q&A session with Packers players on the Tailgate Tour, kicker Mason Crosby was asked his opinion on last season's rule change moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line in retrospect.
"Ten years or so ago, they moved it from the 35 back to the 30 to create more explosive returns and more excitement," explained Crosby. "And now with safety and concussions, they moved it up to the 35. I think it was a feeler. I think it was one of those things last year, they wanted to see how it was. They'll work out some of the kinks."
Crosby went on to describe how he was told that the concussion rate on kickoffs is higher compared to other plays.
Packers president Mark Murphy said kickoffs were the most dangerous play in the NFL not just from a concussion standpoint but also injuries in general.
"I hope we can find a good way to keep (kickoffs) going, a middle ground so we can keep kickoffs in there but without injuring players," said Crosby.
The discussion on safety hopped from player to player on stage, which included current and former players. In addition to Nelson, Crosby and Murphy, others taking part in the Tailgate Tour were current safety Charlie Peprah and ex-players Larry McCarren, William Henderson and Marco Rivera.
Among the ebb and flow of discussion among players, a question was posed, how do they attempt to fix this problem, perhaps epidemic?
Henderson said he hoped that USA Football, the little league youth football program associated with the NFL, can help educate coaches about how to teach proper techniques.
Nelson advocated the merits of flag football.
"There's not a better way to try to tackle someone than try to pull a flag off their hip," said Nelson. "You've got to break down; you've got to have balance; you have to deal with agility. It's not about throwing your body into someone else. I think as we go through it, it breaks down your body. That just adds more pounding on a kid at such a young age."
The topic of the health and well-being of football players was not taken lightly. Amid discussion of the grim realities professional footbal players face, Murphy came full circle.
The Packers front office exec put a positive spin on subject, which really got to the heart of why so many fans showed up for the event in the first place, the reason $80,000 was raised by the Madison chapter of Ronald McDonald House that evening, the reason people love football and pass it along to their children.
Murphy came back to the original question posed to Nelson to the member of the audience that has a son of her own.
"I think football, in terms of learning life lessons, the importance of teamwork, being able to overcome adversity, a number of different areas, cooperation and dedication, I would really recommend if your son wants to play football, to allow him to do that."
Brian Carriveau is a writer for Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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