SAN FRANCISCO: National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday (Saturday in Manila) played down safety concerns associated with the sport at youth level, insisting it was safe for children despite a double-digit death toll last year.
Speaking at his annual press conference ahead of the Super Bowl, Goodell said he would have no hesitation allowing his children to play the sport, pointing to recent initiatives the league has introduced to make the game safer.
“Anytime you have circumstances where there’s loss of life it’s tragic,” Goodell said when asked about the spate of deaths in youth American football last year that generated national headlines.
“From my standpoint, I played the game of football for nine years through high school and I wouldn’t give up a single day of that. If I had a son I’d love to have him play the game of football.
“I’d love to have him play the game of football because of the values you get. There’s risk in life, there’s risk in sitting on the couch.”
In terms of volume of fatalities, high school American football is the deadliest arena in US sport, with at least 11 deaths reported this season up to December 20, including several involving blunt force trauma to the head.
Goodell’s remark was criticized by Chris Nowinski, the co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation non-profit and a critic of the NFL’s record on tackling issues of player safety.
“Roger Goodell’s comments today would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous for children,” Nowinski wrote on Twitter.
Nowinski is one of a band of activists who have argued that children should be prevented from playing full contact football.
His viewpoint is shared by Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian neuropathologist whose research first linked the brain injury chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to blows to the head suffered by NFL players.
CTE is believed to be caused by head trauma that can result in memory loss, dementia and depression.
The story of Omalu’s research is the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster “Concussion” starring Will Smith released last year.
Goodell meanwhile said that the league had “no higher priority” than ensuring the safety of its players.
He insisted that several players who had walked away from multi-million-dollar contracts in the past year citing health concerns were a minority.
“I don’t see so many people walking away from the game. I don’t agree with that,” Goodell said.
“The guys love this game. They’re passionate about this game. If you lose that passion then maybe it is time to move on.”