This week the NFL Draft invades Chicago and I too will be heading back to my hometown to talk about some significant changes being made to football on the youth level. Football has always been a part of my life and the fabric of this great city. I had a dad who coached youth football and my two brothers played while growing up in our town of Palos/Hickory Hills. My husband Mike Golic, a former NFL defensive tackle, played college ball as did my two sons Mike Jr. and Jake.
Now, as a football wife and mom, mother of men who have played football at its highest levels, I feel compelled to come back home to deliver a message to the parents of children playing youth sports today, particularly football. Parents need know that times are a changing. The NFL and the youth organizations have heard your concerns about player safety and are taking actions to address them. As a result, youth football is getting a long overdue makeover.
Recently, this great game was at a crossroads as youth football participation numbers had dipped. The time had come to ask what could be done better. That was how USA Football in 2013 developed Heads Up Football. The program has established a set of guidelines and protocols for teaching football both correctly and as safely as possible.
Heads Up encompasses everything from safer tackling techniques, to investments in coaching certification, proper equipment fitting, and heat and hydration preparedness, along with greater concussion awareness.
Since its inception, the program has been implemented in more than half of all U.S. youth leagues. Players that participate in Heads Up saw 76 percent fewer injuries compared to those in leagues that did not take part in the program, according to a 2014 study by The Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research. This will help make the game ever safer for our children who love to play football.
The NFL has also seen success in pushing for stronger laws designed to protect children from concussions and other head injuries. Thanks to a strong lobbying effort by the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, all 50 states in the nation have passed versions of the "Lystedt law"mandating rigorous youth sports concussion protocols.
This week, the NFL is hosting a series of youth and community events during the draft that illustrate its renewed commitment to player safety on all levels. More than 1,500 local students are expected to take part in youth football clinics at Grant Park on Saturday.
The event in Grant Park will give families a chance first hand to see their kids participate in Heads Up drills and hear from health experts and a nutritionist. There will also be discussion panels featuring former Chicago Bear Spice Adams, Diane Long, mother of Chicago Bear Kyle Long, as well as my husband and I.
Diehard football families are certainly encouraged to come, but the people we are truly hoping to reach are parents who are uncertain about their children playing football. These are the people we really want to talk to about the program.
Our goal is not to convince parents to let their children play football. Rather we want share with them the information we know so they can make a fair and educated decision based on fact rather any real or unfounded fears they might have.
Football has taught my sons so many life lessons and truly helped shaped them into the men they are today. As a mother who has seen first hand what sports did for her children I want to help make the game the best it can be for the next generation. I am calling on the parents in my hometown of Chicago to join me. We can all work together to assure that youth of today have the safest most positive experience playing the game we all love so much.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more