Matt Chaney’s Take on Heads Up Football

The post below is from Matt Chaney’s Blog, re-posted (in part) here with his permission.  We are posting it here not as an endorsement, rather as an opposing view that is worth the read.  Our commentary on this article by Chaney will be below this post.  We encourage everyone to see the entire post on his blog.  You can view it by clicking on the hotlink, it is titled; ‘Heads Up Football’: Truth, Tales and Legal Consequences.


By Matt Chaney

Posted Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Peter King posits bogus hitting technique as Safer Football in Sports Illustrated

—geezuz, the further we go in this latest football crisis, the worse many people become, willingly, on behalf of the sexy blood sport… and so Peter King of SI skips along, telling us bona fide prevention is possible for football’s irreversible head-ramming… a new post by the Hall of Fame football scribe portrays Heads Up ‘proper contact’ as legitimate; King purports this theoretical headless hitting can be instilled by coaches, enforced by referees, adopted by players… I’d like to see King demonstrate on a football field, suited-up himself for forward collisions governed by physics and bullet-head helmets; he’d ram, too, or get his ass kicked… look, folks, players cannot govern or stop ramming on a football field; rather, forces of the crazy game dictate human behavior… forget talk and trust your eyesight, especially naïve parents and kids, to understand Heads Up ‘technique’ is invalid, unreliable, a lienothing new: it’s mere rehash of musty old ‘head up’ form hitting, proven invalid since the 1960s… here’s King, introducing his discussion:

What’s been eye-opening to discover is the trickle-down effect from the NFL to youth football. As the pro league emphasizes safety more and more, so do high schools around America. … Coaches are concerned; 41 of 49 polled [by SI] said they have modified training techniques because of increased education about concussions and head trauma.

—sure, trickle-down effect will reform football danger, once again… solution for brain trauma in the collision game is just around the corner… like trickle-down ‘steroid awareness’ for football’s immense problem with anabolic substances…  King continues:

Several high school coaches emphasized the NFL teaching new tackling techniques, such as “Heads Up Football,” which teaches coaches to train kids to tackle with heads up—instead of using the helmet as a battering ram. Said Middlebury Union (Vt.) coach Dennis Smith: “In any drills we’re doing—whether it be fundamental drills at the beginning of practices, especially defensive practices—we’re always stressing head up. You have to be able to see what you’re tackling.” … Said Brandon (Miss.) coach Brad Peterson: “We always start the year, whether spring or fall, with walking through the proper techniques of tackling.” … The coach of E.O. Smith High in Storrs, Conn., Jody Minotti, said he knows he can’t prevent every concussion, but he trains his players to minimize the risks. “We do less contact throughout the week and we teach proper tackling,” said Minotti. “We preach in practice all of the time, ‘Bite the ball. Bite the ball.’ That means keep your head up and don’t ever lead with your helmet. We film tackling, we talk about tackling whenever we’re watching film.”

—huh, these coaches don’t address the facemask dilemma, the prime fault of football rules behind the charade of Heads Up, ‘proper contact,’ ‘head up technique,’ ‘anti-butting’ or whatever term… this toothless policy and language have been a football mandate since 1976, for high schools and the NCAA… the rules specifically ban not only the helmet shell or ‘crown’ for use at initial impact but likewise forbid the facemask… and that’s impossible for modern tackle football with shatterproof headgear… but these coaches surely know that, the vast majority having played themselves amid the goofball technique and rules, as did Peter King and NFL commissioner Dollar Roger Goodell… yet they all parrot and push this dangerous junk theory, Heads Up… fact is, any kid who trusts this method and runs straight up on a football field, head back, thrusting chest to meet traffic, only gets hammered by opponents’ strikes with helmets and facemasks… or parents trust the talk only to see their young players learn to ram, anyway, for negotiating brutal football reality… leading to lawsuits versus individuals and public institutions… so thank you now, Roxanne Jones, former ESPN executive, for rebuking the NFL on point in your commentary for

Stop endlessly denying the findings of medical science that say playing football can cause permanent brain damage. End the lies. Just admit we have a problem. That is the first step. Stop the slick marketing campaigns to keep telling our children all they need is to learn a “safe way to hit in football,” while denying each hit comes with a dire consequence.

This relationship is toxic. If my beloved NFL continues to lie and deny while men and boys are suffering and dying, then it’s time for this fan to say good-bye.


Said ‘head up’ contact causes brain bleeds and broken necks

—a provocative communication dynamic envelops tackle football in litigious America, 2013, and that’s the official talk, or doublespeak, surrounding critical casualties of collisions, those players lethally injured by football… every year between fifty and a hundred such cases emerge in my Google searches, mostly news reports, of life-threatening wounds and conditions for football damage to central nervous system, internal organs and extremities [i.e. the latter for blood clots, artery rupture]… thus far in 2013, at least five high-school football players have died of collision injuries nationwide, with a sixth case possible, pending an autopsy conclusion in California… the fatality numbers are typically single digits for collision deaths since the 1970s in American football, a marked reduction thanks primarily to trauma care’s widespread establishment in American society since the 1980s, with an assist from skull-preserving helmets, and thanks for nothing from alleged ‘proper tackling,’ that stupid myth masquerading as mortality prevention…  anyway, in most cases anymore of grave injury and death by impact, officials disclaim involvement of illicit hitting; instead, they say, the contact was ‘routine,’ ‘head up,’ ‘proper’ [or they blame the injured player]… last spring in Louisiana, for example, prep running back Jaleel Gipson died of a broken neck sustained during an ‘Oklahoma Drill,’ the notoriously head-on practice setup where initial contact by one player’s helmet or facemask, at least, is virtually guaranteed… yet the school principal says Gipson ran ‘head up’ into the onrushing tackler, who came ‘with his shoulder as textbook’ for legal contact… on and on goes the story, ‘clean hitting,’ same spin around intensive-care casualties of tackle football… meanwhile, video of the incidents is hardly ever available…

[…continued in full HERE…]


Chaney brings up great points and highlights the misnomers of changing technique.  You can hear it on the TV or radio if you choose to listen to NFL pundits – notably former players like Mark Schlereth.  The biggest of which is that the head is part of the game of football, it always has been and always will be when making tackles.  

Is there a safer way to tackle?  Certainly, when there is a “kill shot” available to the players, instead of lowering head like a battering ram and launching into the player; the “head across the bow and wrap” should in most cases suffice.  However, in that “safer” technique the head is still leading the player to the tackle.  It will always get in the way and it will always have risk associated with it.  As Chaney notes above, if a player does all he can to remove his head from the play when attempting a tackle, most likely they will be steamrolled by the ball carrier.  If not by their head, their shoulder.  A full on chest tackle by the defender will be met with – at best – a shoulder.  In this case the ball carrier is lower and will win that battle.  Sure the player may make the tackle but at the cost of yards, precious yards in situations.

I am all for eliminating the spearing and effectively using the helmet as a weapon, it’s a safety “thing” for both parties involved in a one-on-one tackle.  I also agree there is no need to target any player above the shoulders to which I think we are all in agreement.

I believe that by trying to change the narrative from what is truly the problem here with concussions we are doing the injury and those that have had the injury a massive disservice.  

The massive issue is not the injury of concussion, that is going to happen, folks.  The elephant in the room is how the injury is being managed from the identification all the way to return to play.

Maturity of the skeletal and muscular system, along with full understanding of the risks involved with collision sports need to be addressed (see above as Chaney tells us that there have been FIVE fatalities already this year).  It should be noted that the brain continues to develop until late teens and early 20’s in human beings.  Seeing that we only receive one brain and modern medicine has yet to find a way to repair a brain – where as we can fix broken bones and torn ligaments – we should listen to all sides in this evolving issue.

One thing I do not want to see happen is the removal of this sport all together.  I still hold out hope that football as we know it can continue for adolescents through adults.  However not grasping the issue at hand will only delay the conclusions of Matt Chaney.  Football can continue, but we must at least acknowledge the stylings and opinions of people like Chaney or we will all fail in seeing the other side.

6 thoughts on “Matt Chaney’s Take on Heads Up Football

  1. ‘Safer football sounds likes magical thinking…sorta like put a filter on a cigarette (courtesy of Matt C.)…to make smoking cigarettes ‘safer’.

    An athletic trainer recently mentioned to me his concern for “safer tackling”. The individual stated he was witnessing other injuries occurring as a result of attempts at “ heads up “ and “ safer tackling techniques ”.

    Numerous retired pro football players have exclaimed that “safer football” is an oxymoron. They also have proclaimed the sport is clearly aggressively and violently played.

    …there are repeated crushing blows that occur…players don’t tippy toe around left end to gain yardage and / or score a touchdown.

    Players are positively reinforced for delivering hard-hitting tackles.

    A stationary NFL receiver has been measured as being tackled by a defensive player traveling at the speed of 25 mph.

    The Spiral of Denial reiterates these concerns via the following quote:

    “ This is a game of physics and violence played at a high speed. “

    Meanwhile, adults continue to ignore or minimize the monumental “body count” evidence pertaining to the physics-related violence of the sport…

    This alarming ostrich-like ignorance may more accurately and rightfully be viewed as both neglect and abuse of the athlete…no matter the age of the player.

    In addition and sadly, “manipulative ignorance” manifests itself when the adjectives ‘accidental’ or ‘fluke’ are misspoken and misused to describe a presenting football- related concussion / brain injury.

    ‘ACCIDENTAL’ or ‘FLUKE football injuries and deaths’….. ARE



    EXPECTED every year…

    and clearly are neither improbable nor unforeseen.

    Thus children, teenagers and adults are being placed ‘in harms way’ when they walk onto on the football fields,

    and for some athletes the football fields become their ‘sports graveyard”… and not the “ fields of gold “ or golden rewards.

    for what logical reasons????

    It is becoming more apparent that we are playing Russian Roulette with all football participants’ brains, emotions and other parts of their bodies.


    Since children are developmentally limited in their full comprehension of these above adverse issues…they are not capable of making informed consent decisions,

    Therefore, perhaps parents should read this following mantra to their child(ren):

    “ Today as you enter onto the football field…it may be the last time that I know you as my son / daughter. Statistics state you may be brain-damaged or die as a result of participating in football today. “

    Though a so-called ‘small statistical percentage of children’ may die each year: such as 5, 7, 11 or so on …

    each death is clinically, morally and humanly significant !!!!

    Finally, some advocates of football argue football creates physical health

    I encourage parents to ask numerous pro and amateur players who retired (planned or injury-induced) from football re their current injury status and related adverse implications of participating in this sport.…

    May I also suggest these advocates honestly and objectively examine not only the physical costs, but also the financial, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to participating athletes.

    These athletes’ battered and malfunctioning bodies and brains serve as clear evidence of the adverse effects and toll of engaging in this modern gladiator-like sport.

    • Educator Mom October 26, 2013 / 20:02

      After watching “League of Denial”, I think the better statement is “Culture of Denial”. We continue to elevate sports above all else in our society. Our commitment to youth and school sports is ever-increasing even as we watch test scores in the U.S. decline. As a parent and a teacher I still do not see any substantive education being presented to parents and students regarding the risks of concussion in sports like football, wrestling, soccer, hockey, etc. even in a state that has a “Concussion Law”. I have been at games where student athletes have clearly had their “bell rung” and the coach, ref, and AT let them play on. My stomach turns as I watch them grab at their head multiple times, stumble, and try to shake it off. And my stomach turns even more when a school official tells a county official, “we can’t be afford to educate and help these kids who get concussed in school sports.” Kids will forever think they are invincible. Somebody has to be the adult in their lives and make the right decision for them! And the schools and the youth sports league and the NFL are all more concerned about the reputation that winning brings them, no matter what the human toll is.

      • Educator Mom,

        Unfortunately, many persons residing within our U.S. sport culture do not objectively and critically reflect upon sport-related injuries.


        The SPORT CULTURE in the U.S. often IDEALIZES sport participation & therefore uncritically accepts various types of sport injuries as part of the game…

        whether the injury be a sprained ankle, broken leg, a damaged brain or a death….and ignores all the inherent risks of participation.

        Merely mouthing that “the benefits outweigh the risks” serves to shine a spotlight on biased perspectives. Where is the bountiful research to support this premise?

        Thus, when some football advocates argue the sport creates physical health…

        May I suggest they honestly and objectively examine the immediate and long-term financial, physical, social and emotional costs of a sport-related injury to the participant, family members and society?


        There exists well written literature that has challenged “the benefits outweigh the risks” premise. Perusing the Sociology of Sports literature will uncover some very interesting pieces…some of which are noted below…and are excerpts from my 2004 Dissertation.

        Although proponents of sports in recent decades asserted that participation in sports enhances physical fitness and health, sports critics have argued to the contrary (Edwards, 1973; Guttman, 1988; McGregor, 1995; Nack 2001; Nixon, 1984).

        Guttman (1988) challenged the irony of the commonly accepted belief that participation in sports enhances physical development. He argued that closer examination of sports-related injury statistics had revealed the vast number of these injuries clearly reflected and documented the physical destruction of the athlete’s body for participation in sports.

        In addition, athletic participation for some persons would exacerbate a presenting medical problem or cause death (Moeller, 1996).

        Furthermore, it has been suggested that the injury rate found in sports was near epidemic proportions (Vinger & Horner, 1982; Smithers & Myers, 1985) and the number of concussions was also of epidemic proportion (Goldstein, 1990).

        Smithers and Myers (1985) particularly noted that, “although many injuries result from sporting activities, public awareness of the true size of this epidemic is lacking” (p. 457). These authors also viewed injuries as an obvious consequence of sports participation, and encouraged a closer examination of the cost of these injuries to the community

        Polin et al. (1989) concurred with the belief that there exists an inherent risk for the athlete of sustaining an injury while participating in sports. Smith (1986), discussing the probability of the occurrence of sports injury through participation in sports such as soccer, boxing, wrestling, rugby, and lacrosse, stated that “It is taken for granted that when one participates in these activities, one automatically accepts the inevitability of contact, the probability of minor modeling injury, and the possibility of serious injury” (p.223).

        Beyond Reporting Injury Statistics

        Clarke found that despite the existence of statistics compiled from various sports injury reports, injury rates had not been realistically questioned in earlier decades (Clarke, 1998). The author specifically argued in this statement that sports journalism lacked a critical assessment of injuries; he averred that “sports has escaped public attention to accompany injuries, and little ‘research-worthy’ data accompanied any declaration of causes solution of a problem that has been shared” (p.2).

        In reviewing sports history, Mandel (1984), also, pointed out that critical analysis of American sports was generally lacking. Emphasizing the need to more frequently scrutinize and question the descriptive presentation of sport data, he noted, “critique of American sport has been so feeble…But few protested….American sports analysis…remains overwhelmingly descriptive and appraising” (p. 28).

        In the following statement, Poirier and Wadsworth advocate for the need to move beyond a mere reporting of injury-related statistical data and thus critically examine the frequency of injury-occurrence and related player-safety issues: “Any sport has an inherent risk of injury. A balance must be reached between maintaining a competitive edge and ensuring participant safety” (p.278).

        Other sports critics have also expressed their perspectives pertaining to sports injuries (Tolpin & Bentkover, 1981; Torg et al., 1978; Van Mechelen, Hlobil, & Kemper, 1992).

        Torg et al. (1978) challenged the acceptance of sports injuries on the mere basis that, “they compare[…] favorably with the injury rates of other activities such as driving an automobile, auto racing, or motorcycling” (p. 1477). These authors also requested that injury problems be appropriately analyzed so that contributing variables could be addressed.

        Tolpin and Bentkover (1981) and Van Mechelen et al (1992) pointed out that the impact and treatment of various sports injuries resulted in significant personal, economic, and societal costs. Some of these injury-related costs included: (a) direct financial payments by the injured person, his/her family or insurance agency; (b) research designed to treat or prevent injuries; (c) reduced employment productivity; (d) legal and court expenses; and (e) the psychosocial impact on the athlete, the athlete’s family, and other athletes.

        A parallel view of significant sport injury risk was depicted in Dean and Hoerner’s (1981) findings that an individual has a 50% chance of being injured while actively involved in sports. Although the authors indicate many injuries are called “minor,” they also succinctly note, “all injury is damage.”

        These authors also posed an interesting question that they left unanswered: “What does society trade-off for these injuries and death” (p. 41).

  2. Bob Harty November 25, 2013 / 16:01

    A thought on concussions, and what may in fact be causing them. Could it be the current helmet design? So, lets talk about soccer it is 2nd to football in regards to concussions, and they don’t wear helmets, interesting! My thought is as the body heats up due to the
    player playing hard in a game or practice, then throw in the environmental temps, and humidity. The brain like anything else in our body will increase in size when superheated.
    So, we have this hot player in a hot environment, with a lot of heat coming off the their head to help maintain normal body temperatures. Isn’t the body amazing! However, the player puts on a helmet to protect him from a possible skull fracture, which would be
    pretty hard to do in football. However, in doing so he is locking the heat in. Furthermore
    he may be increasing the temperature of the brain, because not only is he locking it in, but the helmet provide for about 1 1/4″ of foam padding, and the helmet itself is not vented. The brain floats in cerebral spinal fluid. When the brain (swells) when it gets super heated, it reduces the amount of circulating CSF, getting it closer to the cranium. So, with reduce CSF, and a super heated brain, you then become much more susceptible to a concussion or other type of brain injury. So, my belief is the current helmet design actually increases your chance for a concussion, or other type of brain injury. Studies have shown that by cooling the head (brain) before an athletic event, that the players field time, coordination, and alertness are all increased. My position is pretty logical, and I have tried to approach some of the major helmet manufacturer’s with the thought and position, they are not interested. The Cleveland Clinic did a study that indicated that the old leather helmets, give you about as much protection, as the current “high tech” ones of today. So, much for current technology.

  3. Phil Colwell February 22, 2014 / 12:52

    i am a former CFL player who is still suffering from the effects of more concussions than i can remember; the average player from the CFL of my age and time had probably started in high school and had played about 13 years to 25 years depending on position ( canadian linemen have the greater lifespan ;with canadian rb,s such as myself , the shortest ; BUT when they start them so young in POP WARNER in the STATES ? what does that make for years of collision?

  4. Phil Colwell February 22, 2014 / 12:58

    i wonder sometimes if the game we know as american football had less concussions back in the late 1800,s because if you don,t have the weapon ( helmet ) you can not shoot anyone!!

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