CINCINNATI - The NFL commissioner said Friday that the league accepts and is taking a leadership role in improving sports safety at all levels.
Roger Goodell spoke Friday morning to the National PTA convention. The Parent Teacher Association has urged its members to seek improved head-injury reporting and training in schools, and Goodell said they should push for properly trained coaches and safe equipment.
"It is our job to lead the way," Goodell said, adding that the NFL is in the position to have a wide impact and takes that responsibility.
"We recognize that role. We recognize that people watch our athletes on the field, watch everything we do. And we have to do what we can to make our game safer, so that every other game ... every other sport, is played safely," he said.
The National Football League is facing a federal lawsuit over concussion-related injuries by thousands of former players, and concerns about head injuries have caused some parents to hesitate to allow their children to play football.
Goodell said the NFL has taken actions to improve safety with rules against "dangerous techniques," more protective equipment, and research such as a $60 million partnership with General Electric Co. to develop for athletes in all sports better headgear, diagnostic tools, and more understanding of brain injuries.
He and other speakers Friday emphasized the benefits of playing sports for young children. They said sports participation helps children get healthy activity, usually results in better school performance, and develops attributes such a discipline and teamwork that will help them throughout life. Goodell said the NFL will partner with the PTA in a program this fall called "Back to Sports" promoting youth health, fitness and safety.
LaVar Arrington, a former Redskins All-Pro linebacker, told the convention that football "has shaped and molded me in so many ways." He promotes an initiative by USA Football called Heads Up Football that teaches techniques for young players to avoid head contact.
"There needs to be a premium placed on doing it the right way," Arrington said of the NFL-supported initiative.
Goodell told the school activists they should push to have their coaches certified; to be able to recognize symptoms of concussions or dehydration and when a young player needs to come out and when medical attention must be sought. He said they also should make sure children have safe, well-fitting equipment.
The father of 12-year-old twin daughters he says play soccer and lacrosse, Goodell said: "The safety of our kids is the most important thing."
Among those in the audience was Darrell Andrews, an education consultant and speaker from Bear, Del. He said he has two sons and has been concerned about the quality and motives of youth football coaches he has seen for some teams.
"Coaches are not being thoroughly vetted; that's a mistake," Andrews said, recounting seeing his 9-year-old son play against a team whose coaches were celebrating hits that hurt young players.
"I think the focus here on the parent level has been missing over the years, so I think that's good."