COLUMBUS – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell started his Ohio weekend Thursday staring up at Paul Brown and Woody Hayes.
“If you’re going to come to Ohio, you’ve got to come to Ohio State, don’t you?” Goodell asked the group of reporters, who waiting to start asking him questions inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Goodell and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer were the featured speakers at the OSU-NFL Mom’s Football Safety Clinic Thursday. The event was part of USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” initiative and invited attendees to learn about proper tackling techniques, concussion awareness, using properly sized equipment, dealing with coach-parent relationships among other subjects. Goodell and Meyer also participated with attendees in a town hall style question-and-answer session at the end of the clinic.
Goodell later traveled to Berea where he took part in a similar event involving Cleveland area Pop Warner football. He will be Canton this weekend as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 50th induction ceremony on Saturday.
“The impetus is USA Football and trying to make sure we provide the information to moms, who make most of the decisions in our households, about all of the things that they’re hearing about and to give them a better education, a better sense of what we’re doing in football to make the game safer and where they can go to get the right kind of information,” said Goodell.
The issue of concussions and the long-term effects they can have on players is one of the biggest challenges facing the sport. The NFL has instituted a rule change this season outlawing offensive ball carriers from using the crown of the helmet when making forced contact with defenders. The NCAA has made it a point of emphasis for its officials to penalize players 15 yards for shots to the head, especially against defenseless players, with possible game expulsions if warranted.
Meyer said he and his coaching staff recently went on a two-day retreat, spending a good part of the time talking about the new emphasis and how to better teach it to their players.
“That’s going to be a game-changer,” said Meyer. “I’m not sure if you guys are aware of it but there are a handful of plays that our players would’ve been thrown out of the game last year. I’m not arguing it. If it’s for player safety, we’ve got to coach it. We’re going to spend a lot of time this training camp, from day one, re-teaching tackling.”
Twenty years ago, Meyer said, players weren’t as “freakishly” athletic as they are now and, as a result, the game wasn’t as fast as it is today. He pointed to a play from Ohio State’s loss at Nebraska two years ago when defensive back Christian Bryant missed a tackle against running back Rex Burkhead (now in training camp with the Bengals).
“Burkhead ran like 30 yards because (Bryant) went in low and with the top of his helmet,” said Meyer. “That’s not good for anybody.”
The clinic was aimed at alleviating fears parents – in this case the mothers – may have when it comes to letting their children play football.
“The priority is you always want to keep the game (safe) and we’ve shown that throughout our history and, frankly, even before our history college football was leading the way. The NFL didn’t even exist,” said Goodell. “We’ve made the game safer, we’ve changed the techniques, we’ve changed the equipment and that’s led to a better, safer game, and we’ll continue to do that. I’m very optimistic that the game will continue to flourish and be better because we take that kind of position.”