The NFL Network may have gotten more than it bargained for when it included John Madden in a panel discussion about safety in youth football.
Melissa Stark has been hosting a five-part series touting the Heads Up Football program, which has been given a five-year, $45 million grant by the NFL to help promote safety within the game by educating coaches, players and parents.
The final installment of the series was a round-table discussion focused on youth football with a panel featuring Stark, Madden, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin and HUF advisory committee member (and NFL wife/mother) Chris Golic.
The discussion started just fine, with various panelists praising HUF and its certification program for youth football coaches.
But then Madden chimed in, asking how long it takes coaches to become certified. When Goodell told him it took about an hour and a half, the legendary coach/broadcaster dropped this bombshell:
"All due respect to the program, I don’t believe in it. I respect coaches, I respect what good coaches do. I know that you don’t learn to be a coach in an hour and a half."
Goodell kept his cool. "It’s not saying you’re going to make someone a great coach," he tried to explain. "It’s certifying them in certain techniques and giving them some understanding of some of the medical issues. Not to make them a doctor, but to know when to make sure they get medically evaluated if they’ve had an injury."
Stark then changed the subject, asking who’s ultimately responsible for making sure proper safety techniques are being employed. Madden let the others talk for a minute or so before deciding to let us know what he really thinks about youth football.
All due respect to the program, I don’t believe in it. I respect coaches, I respect what good coaches do. I know that you don’t learn to be a coach in an hour and a half.
-- JOHN MADDEN
"I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a 6-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill," Madden said. "There’s no way. Or a 7-year-old or an 8-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids.
"Start at 6-years-old, 7-year-old, 8-years-old, 9-years-old. They don’t need helmets — they can play flag football. And with flag football you can get all the techniques. Why do we have to start with a 6-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? I have no idea. We’ll eventually get to tackling."
Goodell offered an opposing view. "I started playing tackle football when I was 7-years-old and I wouldn’t give up a single day of that," he said.
The network may not have expected Madden to express such opinions about the program it’s trying to promote, but kudos to the executive who decided to leave his comments in the piece.