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Goodell brings safety message to town


Roger Goodell

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell surfaced about an A.J. Green fly pattern away from Paul Brown Stadium on Friday morning when he continued the league's crusade to cultivate participation and safety in youth sports while unveiling a partnership with the PTA during the group's national meeting at the Duke Energy Center.

During his pit stop in Cincinnati he also praised the Bengals' decision to host the HBO training camp series Hard Knocks next month for the second time in four years. He also indicated the NFL is looking at rotating the high-profile show throughout the league despite many of the clubs' aversion to disrupting training camp with the camera-infested documentary.

"We're talking about some kind of formal rotation where teams participate in the show on a more regular basis," Goodell said before he spoke to the group. "Not necessarily more frequently, but on a regular basis so that it is a shared obligation and it would give more teams an opportunity to have this."

Bengals president Mike Brown, who attended the PTA session with executive vice president Katie Blackburn and vice president Troy Blackburn, agrees with Goodell that  Hard Knocks is a league asset.

"The show has been popular with our fans because it gives them an inside look at how a team operates. The Bengals have been great about inviting HBO and NFL Films in to be able to see what's going on," Goodell said. "And understand how a team is put together. That inside access is what the show is all about. The storylines always develop in a positive way because they get access. They're able to understand the human emotions that are going on and the decisions that are made."

The Bengals 2009 appearance received rave reviews, not to mention an Emmy, and the late Steve Sabol, the NFL Films chieftain, attributed much of the success to the access allowed by Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis. It's a series that Goodell remembers.

"I thought it was great for the Bengals brand and for the team on a national basis," he said. "So many of our fans got a chance to see the Bengals in a way they never saw them before."

Goodell introduced the Bengals contingent before the group of parents and teachers and observed, "One of the greatest teachers, the guy who arguably brought teaching to pro football, was a guy named Paul Brown."

Goodell's message in Friday's classroom revolved around the league's Play 60 program of exercise and nutrition as well as the NFL's Heads Up initiative designed to expose youth leagues to the proper coaching techniques that include identifying concussion symptoms.

The NFL and PTA are banding together to form the "Back to Sports" partnership this fall.

"We're celebrating our kids participating in a way that's going to help them lead healthier and more fulfilling lives; but we want them to do it safely," Goodell said. "It's proven (by) research that kids that are active and healthy in sports are going to be more productive in school, lead more productive lives, and they're going to continue those habits."

Two advisers to the Heads Up program joined Goodell in taking questions from the floor. Former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington stressed the impact sports had on his early life and why they are imperative for youth, while a concussion expert, Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, outlined how contact sports and youth leagues can survive together.

Pieroth, a head injury and concussion specialist for the Bears as well as the Blackhawks, White Sox and Northwestern, is a self-described Hockey Mom with two sons.

"People ask me every day if I'd let them play football and people are surprised when I say yes," Pieroth said after the discussion. "We can keep kids safe. There's a way kids can engage in sports. Research shows only about 10 percent of the kids in any given season get a concussion. The majority of kids who play get all the benefits without getting these injuries, so we need to focus on that. Do everything we can to keep them safe. We're not minimizing concussions, but let our kids be kids and enjoy sports."

But the panel emphasized it is imperative to adhere to the symptoms, as well as the law. Pieroth noted that the NFL supported the drive that has resulted in 47 states requiring athletes to be pulled off the field if they show symptoms of a concussion and can't return until cleared by a medical professional trained in concussion assessment.

A man who identified himself as a teammate at Cheney State of the late Andre Waters, the former NFL safety whose brain damage has been linked in some reports to his depression and suicide, asked Goodell what steps have been taken to heighten awareness about head injuries on the youth level.

He pointed to the 2,000 organizations involving 60,000 coaches that have signed up for the NFL's pilot program.  

"That's part of our (responsibility); to help youth football," Goodell said. "The Heads Up program is designed to certify coaches so we can teach these coaches the proper techniques. In classroom work, they are being taught techniques in the way to run practices. You should encourage coaches to be certified.

"That's going to help teach identifying the symptoms of (injuries like) dehydration and concussions and to recognize this youngster needs to be out and be seen by a doctor."

Goodell flashed some hands on knowledge when the panel was asked about headgear in sports like football, hockey and lacrosse. Pieroth said that no matter the make of the helmet or the sport, it comes down to fit and to monitoring the fit during the season.

"Make sure you don't let your kids modify their helmets; we see it at the NFL level," Goodell said. "They want to be different and they want to modify the helmet in some fashion. They want to change the chin strap. Don't let them do that.

"On a regular basis, you have to check the fitting. If the kid has a haircut, it can change the way that helmet fits them or if the hair grows longer. You have to really keep an eye on that. So on a regular basis, make sure that helmet is tight, well-fit and being worn the right way."

Goodell realizes that kids are watching everything his players do. It's a reason, he said, why he feels the NFL has to take a lead on not just youth football, but all youth sports. It's also a reason the league went so hard with the NFL Players Association on making knee and thigh pads required this season.

"I don't know how many injuries it will prevent, but I do know this," he said. "They are safer wearing those pads than without them, and I think younger kids will say, 'They're wearing them, I should wear them.' "

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