“I would hate my parents if they didn’t allow me to play youth football,” proclaimed former National Football League player Tim Tyrrell. Tyrell played in the NFL from 1984 to 1989. I spoke with two former professional football players about their experiences in the NFL and their thoughts on concussions in the game. In addition to Tyrell, former Bears offensive lineman and Super Bowl champion Kurt Becker, who played from 1982 to 1990 in the league, shared his thoughts.
We reminisced about their playing days in the NFL and how much things have changed regarding rules and safety. “We would practice Monday through Saturday, constantly doing contact drills and live hitting,” said Tyrell. Weekday practices today include little to no contact drills. Coaches don’t want to incur player injuries. Coaches want healthy, conditioned players ready to put it all on the field for game day.
“During our era, coaches taught us that the helmet was to be used as a weapon instead of a “I would hate my parents if they didn’t allow me to play youth football,” proclaimed former National Football League player Tim Tyrrell. Tyrell played in the NFL from 1984 to 1989. I cushion from serious head injuries like concussions.” said Becker. Yes, today’s football helmets like the revolutionary VICIS ZERO1 use new technology based on knowledge about sports injuries including concussions and lasting effects like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
A concussion is a brain injury typically indicated by a temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head. Many former football players have spoken out against the NFL claiming the NFL hasn’t done enough for player especially in light of ongoing CTE research being reported. “I think the NFL has done enough,” said Tyrell. “I have been a part of the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) for several years and the league supports current and former players through our pension fund. Players today wouldn’t be making the money they make today if it wasn’t for former players like us who laid down the foundation to make sure we have security as we age.”
There are many groups organizing against contact football as a youth sport. They argue that tackling leads to unnecessary neck and brain injuries in young players. But, that is not the case according to Becker. “Coaches like myself now teach a rugby-style tackle which we call “heads up tackling. This technique keeps the head outside, then wrap out with the arms and bring the opponent down.” Becker is also a former football coach at Marmion Academy and his alma mater East Aurora High School in Aurora, IL.
Today there are set protocols for evaluating a player for a concussion. This has been in place by the NFL since 2014. These guidelines are mandated to be followed by all NFL teams today. “There was a protocol for concussion evaluation during our days. The team doctor would first ask how many fingers am I holding up?” said Tyrell. “Then we would sit out a mandatory 1 week and be reevaluated to play the next week. This is very similar to the five step process a player must go through before getting cleared for game day eligibility.
Just last week lawmakers in Illinois sent a bill to the House of Representatives to ban contact football for kids under 12 in the state. The bill is named after former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who committed suicide and donated his brain for CTE research. Look this up to be sure. It is strongly supported by a group of lawmakers and parents but isn’t completely supported by Tyrell and Becker.
“I think it’s a terrible law. They are only worried about making a small group happy. Not learning football fundamentals at an earlier age than 12 years old means there will be a shorter learning curve before playing high school football. The research gathered isn’t enough to support the big decision they have to make for all involved. Football teaches kids to prepare for life after the sport. They learn core values that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Those core values include discipline, sacrifice, commitment, teamwork and selfless service,” emphasized Becker.
So where do these two former NFL players stand on youth football? Do they believe football is it safe for people to play?
“I say, yes, they should play. The reward is greater than the risk when it comes to the game,” said Becker. “I was able to coach my son from Pee Wee on through high school and watch him play in college.” While Tyrell claims, “If I had kids I would definitely let them play. Football has had a big impact on the man I am today.”