Heads Up Program Making Football Safer for Next Generation

Football can be a dangerous sport. It's important for parents and players to protect themselves both physically and financially.

September 11, 2013

The NFL has made headlines recently regarding its lack of treatment for player's concussions and brain injuries. Yet, whether it's pee-wees or the pros, concussions are a risk for any player out there on the football field. The difference is that the younger generations are taking note and acting to change the brutality of the game.

In Virginia, the Fairfax County Youth Football League is teaching their players a tackling method aimed at keeping the brain safer and securing football's future. Ironically, it is part of an NFL-backed program called Heads Up Football.

Heads Up was launched nationally this year by USA Football, a non-profit that gets funding and promotion from the NFL. Approximately 2,800 youth programs with about 600,000 players have joined so far. The program is partly in response to a drop in youth participation in football last year from 3 million to 2.82 million.

Tommy Thompson, chairman of the Fairfax County league, says his program grew for 12 straight years until the concussion controversy started. Since then, his program has gone from 7,200 players to 6,000 in 3 years. "We believe that has been the main driver of the decline in our enrollment," says Thompson. (Heads Up: Good play or good ploy? USA Today, August 28, 2013)

While the program has been praised as a step in the right direction, some have mixed feelings about the NFL's motivations. The league argues it is doing the right thing and the partnership began long before the concussion controversy. Critics argue that while it's a smart business move, it's also an effort to make a game that's not safe appear that way to parents. Read more

The league currently has more than 4,500 ex-players who have filed or joined lawsuits alleging the NFL knowingly failed to protect them from concussions. One of the more well-known of these lawsuits is a class-action suit involving more than 83 players, including Clinton Portis, Daunte Culpepper and Cadillac Williams. This lawsuit sparked three former college football players to file a similar suit against the NCAA.

"It's getting really real for organizations that are supposed to protect their football players. Players are standing up and wanting compensation for damage they will endure the rest of their lives. Despite motivations, the Heads Up program is a step in the right direction and will hopefully inspire future generations to not only play safer, but to educate themselves on the risks of football. At the end of the day, it's a dangerous sport and players should protect themselves both physically and financially," says Frank N. Darras, disability attorney to the pros.

The truth is that football can be a dangerous sport. Everyone knows that. While the NFL and the NCAA could learn a lesson or two from the Heads Up program, players should still take the initiative to protect themselves.

"Disability policies are available for a reason and whether or not you get a lesson from your college AD on the dangers or not, you should invest in a disability policy that will protect you for years to come. A good disability policy from a reputable company will ensure that you have an income, even if your disability prevents you from playing," says Darras.