The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Teaching Proper Tackling Techniques since 1967


“Like safe cigarettes, safe football is a myth.”  In The Myth of Safe Football, Patrick Hruby suggests that in spite of teaching new tackling techniques to past and future generations of football players, the sport is a collision sport that can’t be played safely.  The collisions aren’t accidents, they are part of playing the game well. A tackle can’t be made using a particular “safe” technique when the opposing player is doing everything physically possible to avoid being taken down.

Former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jacksin tells Hruby, “you watch those videos (USA Football tutorial videos) and teaching sessions, and it’s an obsessively controlled environment. But maybe once a game would you find yourself in a situation like that. Nobody presents themselves like a perfect tackling form dummy. At all levels, tackling is really just by any means necessary. You don’t get to stop and think about how you are going to do this thing you are about to do. You have to just do it. The ones who are good move up the ladder and make it to the NFL. It’s not like you need amazing technique. Sometimes you just do this thing and it defies technique.”

Hruby also calls out the NFL for waging a disingenuous campaign to promote “safe tackling” technique as a solution to the concussion problem in the NFL. “When Goodell and others frame football safety as a matter of proper individual technique — like slowing down for yield signs — they also are suggesting whom to blame when something goes horribly wrong.”

Certainly, the NFL does roll out programs, commercials and spokespeople to communicate their mantra that the game “can be played safely and is safe, as long as it is taught properly and the players execute it properly.” The NFL has the youth program USA Football, television commercials featuring current players like Tom Brady, safety committees with former players like HOF linebacker Willie Lanier, and respected university medical researchers like Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz all on consistent message that the game can be played safely as long as proper tackling technique is taught and followed.

Another problem with the “technique” solution Hruby points out, is that this solution has been publicized since the 1960’s and hasn’t worked.  A 1967 publication of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association talks at length of the problem with “spearing.” The publication also quotes the 1960’s expert medical panel created by the American Medical Association, the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Sports.  “The football authorities called for coaches to emphasize correct, head-up blocking and tackling, and for strict enforcement by officials of the rules against spearing.”

Hruby: “The game itself is never the problem. Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian spoke for the football establishment: “I can’t begin to tell of the number of clinics where I have lectured on the (spearing) problem. We don’t teach this at Notre Dame; and over the years, I have done everything within my power to influence others to coach against it.”

“Parseghian said this in 1967.”

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