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Pittsburgh Steelers, USA Football Launch Youth-Concussion Initiatives

AP_MikeTomlin.jpg

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin started telling his players this season, "Don't hit the head, don't use the head," as a way to improve safety and help his guys avoid costly fines or suspensions.

This fall, that message will spread to local schools and youth-sports programs as part of a new initiative being launched by the Steelers and Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), according to the Associated Press. The Steelers will send a concussion-information packet to local youth-football programs and middle and high schools that contains information about UPMC's concussion program, the AP reports.

"This campaign has the possibility of tremendous change for our youth and high school football players," said Collins to the AP.

The program reportedly was initiated from a confrontation between Tomlin and Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who was fined $55,000 last season for illegal hits. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert overheard Tomlin's advice about not leading with the head, and then called Collins.

"I got a call from Kevin Colbert saying, 'I've been hearing this, players are responding to it, it's something we'd like to make into a campaign for kids,' " Collins told the AP. "I said to myself, it kind of makes sense. We're talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers here. They're trendsetters. They're ahead of the curve. They do what's right for the sport."

Recently, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley donated $60,000 to his former high school district to cover pay-to-play fees for all middle and high school student-athletes.

On a related note: Two weeks ago, USA Football (the NFL's official youth-development partner) launched its Heads Up Football initiative, which aims to instruct youth players on proper tackling techniques.

The Heads Up initiative will promote the "dip and rip" method of tackling, which involves a player "making contact in an ascending motion powered by legs and hips while ripping their arms upward around the ball carrier," according to a statement. In recent years, players have often led with their heads while tackling ("putting their hat on the ball"), which could increase the risk of concussions.

Like Tomlin of the Steelers, Heads Up Football will encourage players not to lead with their heads while attempting a tackle. As part of the initiative's launch, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell volunteered to demonstrate the proper way to tackle, playing the role of a ball carrier.

A Heads Up Football mobile app is now available and free to download on Apple mobile products and Android devices. Alongside the initiative's launch, Goodell also published a letter to all NFL fans on Aug. 16 promoting the importance of player safety, especially in youth football.

Given the concerns in recent years over sports-related concussions, safety initiatives like Heads Up Football will likely be critical for the long-term health of football moving forward. Parents' potential unease over letting their children play football could theoretically be reduced by teaching youth players proper, safe tackling techniques.

Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, left, watches as free-agent tight ends Wes Lyons (81) out of West Virginia, and David Paulson (48) out of Oregon, participate in drills during the team's rookie mini-camp at its facility in Pittsburgh in May. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

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