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NFL's Emphasis on Safety Sends Message to Youth Football

If you're not too wrapped up in the ongoing U.S. debt-ceiling debate, you may have heard that the National Football League reached an end to its 132-day lockout on Monday.

I won't bore you with all the nitty-gritty details of the league's new collective bargaining agreement (here's a summary Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader of the nitty-gritty from Sports Illustrated), but one aspect of the new deal deserves a mention here: the improvements to player safety.

The NFL hasn't been shy this year about encouraging all states to pass youth-concussion laws, as officials say that they hope to protect the more than 3 million student-athletes playing football. More than that, the NFL has done a complete 180 in terms of how much more seriously it treats concussions at the professional level in the past 18 months.

Now, with the new bargaining agreement, it's taken the next step toward improving football safety standards, which should influence youth and collegiate football as well.

The NFL will allocate $20 million to the players' association each year for health, safety, and former-player issues; guarantee contracts against injury up to the third year for the first time; create a $620 million "Legacy Fund" for players who played before 1993; eliminate the dreaded 2-a-day practices; limit teams to only 14 total padded practices in the entire regular season, 11 of which must be held within the first 11 weeks; allow only 3.5 hours of field time per day in training camp; and reduce the maximum number of organized team activities in the offseason from 14 to 10.

That's a mouthful, to say the least. But these standards set a new precedent in terms of player safety, and it's likely only a matter of time until K-12 schools and colleges begin considering adopting many, if not all, of them.

Take the new restrictions on the total number of padded practices allowed. How many high schools and colleges currently could fit under the 14 padded practices a year limitation? Here's guessing not many. Same goes for the restrictions on 2-a-days; how many high school football squads have already started gearing up for two weeks of 2-a-days in the sweltering August heat?

Some players, like linebacker Bart Scott of the New York Jets, believe the NFL is "wimping out ... making football more soft" by banning 2-a-days, as ESPN's Howard Bryant reported.

But Bryant spoke with Kevin Mawae, the president of the NFL Players' Association, and gathered the seminal counter-quote to Scott's argument.

"When he's 50 years old and he's taken off 65 hits a day from his head," Mawae said of Scott, "he'll thank the players."

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