NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stopped in Fairfield Wednesday to talk safety, determination, and football with the Fairfield Giants Pop Warner League players, parents, and coaches at Sullivan Field.
"Football is a great game," Goodell told the players, noting it takes "character, discipline, and perseverance" to play.
It also takes looking after yourself and focusing on safety in order to play well, and that's why Goodell paid a visit. Through Heads Up Football -- a program created last year by a consortium of players, coaches, and doctors -- Goodell, the NFL, NCAA, and other organizations hope to enhance player safety starting at the youth level.
"We think it will change the culture of football," Goodell said of the program, which the Fairfield Giants league is a member of.
Heads Up is based on five pillars: education and certification of coaches; concussion awareness and education; equipment fitting; Heads Up tackling (which focuses on reducing helmet contact between players); and the inclusion of player safety coaches who ensure compliance with Heads Up protocol in the youth leagues.
Goodell said through Heads Up, the NFL has been focusing on "taking dangerous techniques out of the game" so players can adjust to safer moves -- like using the shoulder to block, rather than the helmet.
These changes must be made at the pro level and even in football video game, Goodell said, so that the next generation of football players can see safer techniques on TV.
He added that it was important for kids to not feel ashamed if they're hurt, and to let their coaches and parents know if they need to sit out a game as they recover from an injury.
Goodell observed team drills and then answered questions from parents and players, who wanted to know how he became commissioner.
Becoming commissioner was a challenge, Goodell said -- he began interning for the then-commissioner Pete Rozelle after being rejected many times. His persistence clearly paid off -- Goodell became commissioner in 2006.
"The lesson here is you have to work hard and go after your passion," Goodell told the players.