USA Football wants to drive home the importance of player safety with a "Protection Tour."
The governing body for youth football in this country will stage the tour at four NFL team facilities, focusing on educating players and their families, coaches and others on preventive safety measures for young athletes.
The tour begins July 21 at the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts training complexes. On July 24, it will visit the New York Giants facility, and four days later will be hosted by the San Francisco 49ers.
Held in conjunction with helmet maker Riddell, Chartis Insurance and the NFL, the tour will include as many as 1,500 youth football players, parents, coaches, medical and training personnel. It will feature proper tackling drills, helmet fitting, concussion awareness and management sessions.
"The front end has to be about proper education and equipment fitting and understanding concussions, and making sure you clearly understand how to teach tackling," said Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football. "It all starts to come together and now we are talking about a comprehensive solution. That will give us a real chance to protect this game and see it prosper."
While USA Football envisions someday touring all 32 NFL team training facilities — and beyond into the college football world — it is starting with a less-ambitious plan.
"We have been for some time concentrating on the importance of coaching education," Hallenbeck said. "After speaking to a lot of coaches and commissioners and parents and players — and with all the safety concerns everyone has in all sports — we recognize that coaching education alone is not the answer, and reducing helmet contact alone is not the answer, nor is improved equipment alone. It is all of those things and much more.
"We believe a myriad of elements equal a better and safer game. This is the first step in that process for us."
The sports medicine community is eager to see what results come out of the four stops on the Protection Tour. Because the events will take place so close to training camp, no current players will be involved in the instruction. However, team alumni will be present.
Players from local youth leagues will attend the sessions at the four locations.
"I think this is a grass-roots opportunity," said Dr. Patrick Kersey, USA Football's medical director and one of the Colts' team doctors. "One of our hopes is we are going to stimulate maybe these potential opportunities in other sports, as well. It's exciting for us to be the first in youth football and I think it will be stimulatory to other youth leagues and sports leagues to potentially get into efforts along these lines."