NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, USA Football chairman Carl Peterson and Pop Warner Little Scholars executive director Jon Butler attended the announcement, as did Heads Up Football advocates Sheila Chudzinski, wife of Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle and former Browns Jamel White and Steve Sanders.
“Our No. 1 priority is the game,” Goodell told ClevelandBrowns.com. “We know what we do at the NFL level to affect every other level of football. There’s a greater level of awareness, of the safety of playing the game the right way. We believe the game is safer than ever. We believe it is better than ever for those who play and those who watch. The game is more exciting and safer than ever. That’s a good place. We’re optimistic about the future. This program has helped us bring fundamentals back into the game.”
Peterson added, “Our number one concern is the safety of our kids that play our great game throughout this country. About five million kids between the ages of six and 19 have played both tackle and flag football, and our concern is what is best for them. We’re extremely proud to partner with the National Football League on the Heads Up Football Program.”
The Heads Up Program teaches players to keep their heads up and out of the line of contact when making tackles with other players. The program also emphasizes coaches learn and teach the game’s fundamentals after completing USA Football’s nationally accredited Level 1 Coaching Certification Course.
Through the program, coaches also learn to effectively recognize and respond to player concussions, and the proper protocols that go with treating head injuries, as well as the importance of getting equipment to fit properly.
Last year was a pilot for Heads Up Football in which three leagues adopted the methods of the program. This year, 2,800 leagues, 90,000 coaches and 600,000 youth will be educated through the Heads Up Football Program.
“We think this is going to be a great program,” Goodell said. “It emphasizes the proper techniques, how to play the game correctly, and how to hit properly. The youngsters were learning the proper techniques on how to tackle, the fundamentals, and this is what our Heads Up Program is all about.”
Butler added, “Since 1929, our mission has been the same, to enable young people to benefit from the participation in team sports in a safe, structured environment. Safety is important to us, and so is teaching the game the right way. We’ve focused on teaching the fundamentals while instilling the values of teamwork and sportsmanship that we hope our athletes will carry with them throughout their lives.”
Pop Warner Football was the first league to adopt a concussion policy back in 2010, and also came up with rules to limit contact during practices, specifically helmet-to-helmet hits.
“We’re trying to change the culture of our game, and it has to start at the grassroots level,” Peterson said. “It’s a great, great game. The positives so far outweigh the negatives, but parents want to know, administrators want to know, coaches want to know, players want to know what is the best way to do this? We think the Heads Up Football Program certainly leads in that direction.”