Football is a tough game. I should know: Even though I played for only six or seven years, I have more days than I would like to count where my knees constantly hurt.
I had my right shoulder knocked out of place while making a tackle once, and it still gives me pain to this day. Most mornings or late evenings, I feel much older than the 34 years I have lived on this earth.
If you asked me whether I would do it all over again and play football again knowing what I know now, my answer would be easy: “In a heartbeat.”
I loved playing football, and some of the best friends I have to this day are my teammates from those teams.
It took me a long time to finally come to terms with the fact that playing football for me was over. My aches and pains are bearable most days, and I have learned to push most pain out of my mind. That is not the case for every football injury.
This past Saturday, Tulane safety Devon Walker fractured his spine when his helmet collided with defensive tackle Julius Warmsley’s helmet. Warmsley is Walker’s teammate. I have watched the replay several times, and the first thing I noticed is that both Walker and Warmsley ducked their heads.
In 2010, Rutgers University’s Eric LeGrand suffered a similar injury on a kickoff against Army. LeGrand ducked his head to make a tackle when he suffered his injury.
Injuries happen in football, but injuries like LeGrand and Walker’s spinal injuries can be avoided. One of the worst things I see in football today—from high school to pro football—is a player ducking his head when making a hit.
To properly learn how to tackle, the first thing coaches should teach their players is to see what they hit. Too many players are not seeing what they are hitting, and some are paying a steep price.
Tackling has become so dangerous that the NFL is sponsoring a pilot program called “Heads Up” to teach youth coaches about concussions and proper tackling technique.
Too many players want to use their helmet to “spear” opposing players as they duck their heads and launch themselves like bullets across the field.
Tackle football is as dangerous—or as safe—as any other sport when played properly. I strongly advise that parents and family members learn the proper way to make a tackle, and then make sure the kids you love are tackling the proper way.
If they’re not being taught correctly, bring it to their coaches’ attention. Then, hold the coaches accountable for teaching the proper way to make tackles.
It won’t stop every injury from occurring, but it can help stop preventable injuries.
For information about the Heads Up program, visit usafootball.com/health-safety/concussion-awareness.