Jon Gruden on Youth Football Safety: "There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess"

Jan 23, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; ESPN broadcaster and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders former coach Jon Gruden at Team Irvin practice at Scottsdale Community College in advance of the 2015 Pro Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Gruden on Youth Football Safety: "There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess"

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Jon Gruden on Youth Football Safety: "There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess"

The New York Times has a piece on USA Football’s annual convention in Orlando, near the site of the Pro Bowl last weekend, and a new version of the sport that will be tried at the youth levels.

That format, called modified tackle, will use smaller fields, fewer players on the field, and eliminate kickoffs and punts. It has been tested this fall with scrimmages in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

“There are, legitimately, concerns among parents about allowing their kids to play tackle football at a young age,” Mark Murphy, Green Bay Packers President and USA Football board member, said, “so they can look at this and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative.”

Buried further down in that piece are these quotes from Jon Gruden, who was also a speaker at the event.

“There are a lot of geniuses out there that are diminishing football right now,” said Jon Gruden, a former coach of the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who now works as an analyst for ESPN. “There are a lot of geniuses that are trying to damage the game, and ruin the game. Do you feel it? There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess.

Not on my watch, and clap your hands if you’re with me on that,” he added, to loud applause.

This guy is not the first ESPN employee to invoke the War on Football, as Danny Kanell sounded the alarm last year, before tweeting about the 1985 Chicago Bears and forgetting about Dave Duerson.

Is there a segment that wants to see football go away? Sure there is. But the bigger issue is the segment that wants to see it made safer, and the parents–and youth who are hitting that 12-13-year-old range and can start expressing some opinions as well–who have concerns about safety and have other options. The bigger issue is the kids and families that try it and then walk away because they see safety issues first-hand.

There is no coherent group when it comes to parental opinions, and plenty of communities still see football participation as part of its fabric. But I’m reminded of cases like this recent GQ story of a high school player in Iowa, whose father was a hard-nosed coach:

Myles Easter Sr. had seen the news reports of ex-NFL stars whose lives unraveled post-retirement and ended in suicide. Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, Junior Seau—the Sunday gladiators who once were the apotheosis of all that he worshipped about the game of football. But Myles never really believed the disease existed. To be honest, even the mention of it kind of disgusted him. CTE was an excuse, he had always thought: a bunch of millionaire athletes who had it made, blew through all their money, fell out of the limelight, got depressed, then killed themselves. But now, hearing his own son—still just a kid, no jaded pro, someone who had never played a day of football above the high school level—say that he might have CTE?

“It just caught me so off guard,” Myles Sr. says. “I was honestly dumbfounded.”

Attributing this stuff simply to “geniuses” who want to take away recess is simplistic and counterproductive. Real people who are making real decisions are at the heart of this, and uttering sound bytes for applause may play to a base, but it also makes you look like you are burying your head in the sand.

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