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Data: USA Football Program Doesn't Reduce Concussions

Jason Scott

With awareness of concussions at an all-time high, it’s no secret that people involved with football are concerned. Parents, players, coaches and professional organizations such as the NFL are all looking for ways to make the game safer. But a new report from the New York Times reveals that one of the most popular safety programs isn't working as advertised.

The NFL — obviously — has a vested interest in ensuring that the dangers of the game don’t scare away prospective players. With youth football participation on the decline, the league sought ways to curb that threat.

One of those ways was through USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program, which teaches coaches via in-person and online courses safer practice drills and tackling techniques.

The program is funded and highly touted by the NFL, and has been sold to parents, coaches and players alike as being an effective way to curb incidents of head injuries in football.

USA Football commissioned a study by the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention on the effectiveness of the Heads Up Football Program in 2014, and preliminary results from the research were promising. They indicated that youth football programs that used the tactics saw concussions and other injuries reduced dramatically — concussions by about 30 percent and other injuries by as much as 76 percent.

However, the full study, which was published in July 2015, revealed no demonstrable impact on concussion or injury rates. In short, the evidence showed that the program doesn’t work.

It’s a big blow to proponents of the program, including the NFL and USA Football.

In an email to the New York Times, USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck wrote “USA Football erred in not conducting a more thorough review with Datalys to ensure that our data was up to date,” adding that the material would be removed from the organization’s materials and partners would be notified of the errors.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that the league would also update its materials to reflect the more accurate data.

Datalys researchers bore the responsibility for publicizing the preliminary numbers, and did not inform USA Football of the final results until after they were interviewed by the Times.

“We’re the ones that put out the numbers,” Datalys president Thomas Dompier told the Times. “We’re the ones that kind of blew it.”

Zachary Kerr, one of the Datalys researchers, said that they released the preliminary numbers five months early because, “The results were so compelling, we felt morally obligated to make the youth football community aware of the results.”

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