NFL's data on concussion in youth football proves to be wide of the mark

Participation in football among younger players has dropped significantly as a result of health concerns

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Image: Andrew Matthews / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Heads Up Football, a program to help youth coaches improve safety precautions at training and in games has not seen a reduction in injuries, contrary to claims made earlier this year by the NFL. 

The program takes the form of online and in-person courses for coaches to learn how to transmit the proper tackling form to youth football players, and improve precautions and safety procedures at training. 

Both the NFL and USA football cited a study from 2015 by an independent sports analysis company in which it was stated that, as a result of the implementation of this program, early figures indicated that injuries were down by 76%, while the number of concussions had fallen by as much as 30%. 

However, according to a review from The New York Times, the program (which is heavily funded by the NFL and run by USA Football) showed "no demonstrable effect on concussions during the study, and significantly less effect on injuries over all, than U.S.A. Football and the league have claimed in settings ranging from online materials to congressional testimony."

Datalys, the company behind the study, had reportedly passed on the preliminary results to both organisations in February, several months ahead of the publication of the full report in July of last year. 

Speaking to The New York Times, Scott Hallenbeck, the executive director of USA Football said that they "erred in not conducting a more thorough review with Datalys to ensure that our data was up to date. We regret that error."

Brian McCarthy, a spokesperson for the NFL, said that they would be citing the updated information from this point on, while Thomas Dompier, president of Datalys, also took the blame, stating that "we’re the ones that put out the numbers. We’re the ones that kind of blew it."

The NFL has faced a huge backlash over the persistent problem of concussions in the game, which has seen parents move to find safer sports for their children to play.

Data reported by The New York Times backs that up, showing that participation in youth football has fallen by around 800,000 across the country since 2010 to 2.2 million, "a decline generally attributed to concerns about injuries, particularly to the brain."

The news comes shortly after the retirement of Eugene Monroe at the age of just 29, citing concerns over CTE and the result of concussions on his life after the game. 

Noting that he has already been forgetting things and suffering from memory loss, Monroe wrote: "Do I have CTE? I hope I don’t, but over 90% of the brains of former NFL players that have been examined showed signs of the disease. I am terrified."