Cowboys' Jerry Jones hosts summit to promote football's safety, growth

FRISCO, Texas -- Concerned about the game, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones hosted the first of what he hopes will be many “future of football summits,” with factions representing youth, high school, college and professional football, as well as some from outside football, Tuesday at The Star.

Jones was joined by 18 men and women, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach; Jeff Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric; Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon, the president of Michigan State; Tod Leiweke, chief operating officer of the NFL; Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione; SEC commissioner Greg Sankey; and Randy Allen, the head coach at Highland Park High School outside Dallas.

“There’s a lot of great testimonies about the value of what football does for a young person,” said Archie Manning, who is the chairman of the National Football Foundation. “I see people in the business world. I see people talk about things they learned. High school football is where it’s at. If a young man wants to play and really enjoy it and likes to play, I hope they keep playing. I hope we can help the game and make the game safe enough. There’s always going to be people getting hurt. It’s not going to be totally safe, but we can make the game as such that a young man that wants to have that experience can have it and have a good experience.”

The ultimate goal of the summit is to take the information and data gathered and present it at every level to provide a best practices regarding safety, the appropriate age to begin playing football, making the game affordable and available to all, the size of playing field, and a modified game.

“I think there’s a chance to have a big impact in terms I’d say two things: one is really establishing ... [what] are the best practices, what’s the best way the game should be played in terms of different age groups and things like that,” said Immelt, who is also an NFF member and played collegiately at Dartmouth. “And then I just think fighting for mindshare with every mother of a son or father of a son in the U.S. to say, ‘This is the right sport that your child should play.’ Nobody can ever take that for granted.”

According to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association last spring, there was a slight uptick in participation in football from ages 6 to 12 in 2015. Flag football participation in the same age group saw a larger jump.

Among teenagers, however, tackle football saw a drop in total numbers playing the game from 1.631 million in 2014 to 1.566 million in 2015.

Simon hopes the summit leads to a “pathway” that will make the game safer and grow the game at the same time. As the health studies improve over time, the data can be implemented in a way that helps both perspectives.

“In order for this to be successful in the long run, they have to be ‘ands,’ and not ‘ors,’” Simon said. “I think historically we’ve seen them as ‘ors,’ and we’re at the point in history where they need to be ‘ands.’ They need to be ‘ands’ across a broad spectrum of folks. The work that has occurred in changing some of the dimensions of the NFL in terms of hitting people in practice, all the things that’s changed, that needs to really seep down and be there for all people in football.”