When it comes to youngsters putting on helmets and playing tackle football, John Madden has a strong opinion: He’s adamantly against it.
Madden, the former NFL coach and “Monday Night Football” commentator, was plainspoken when he addressed the topic during a round-table discussion that wrapped up Melissa Stark’s NFL Network series on the Heads Up football program designed to train youngsters on how to play the game safely. Madden was joined by Commissioner Roger Goodell, Michael Irvin and Chris Golic, the wife of Mike Golic and a member of the Heads Up advisory committee, and the topic turned from coaching certification to safety in a time of growing awareness about the dangers of concussions.
“I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a 6-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill,” Madden said. “There’s no way. Or a 7-year-old or an 8t-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids.
“Start at 6 years old, 7 years old, 8 years old, 9 years old. They don’t need helmets — they can play flag football. And with flag football you can get all the techniques. Why do we have to start with a 6-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? I have no idea. We’ll eventually get to tackling.”
The commissioner took the other side. “I started playing tackle football when I was 7 years old,” he said, “and I wouldn’t give up a single day of that.”
Nor was Madden buying the idea that youth football coaches could be certified after taking a brief course.
“[T]hey can’t learn them in a short time,” Madden said of the techniques taught in Heads Up. “I was a coach, and I put a lot of education and experience into coaching. . . . How long does it take to get a certificate?”
Madden scoffed when told by Goodell that it takes 90 minutes.
“All due respect to the program, I don’t believe in it,” Madden said. “I respect coaches, I respect what good coaches do. I know that you don’t learn to be a coach in an hour and a half.”
Goodell replied: “It’s not saying you’re going to make someone a great coach. It’s certifying them in certain techniques and giving them some understanding of some of the medical issues. Not to make them a doctor, but to know when to make sure they get medically evaluated if they’ve had an injury.”