NFL + GE – The Sum is Greater Than Its Parts

NFL and GE expand the power of influence through the Head Health Initiative and the power of their shared beliefs.

Leadership was in full bloom Monday 3/11/13 at 30 Rock in NYC. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt invited the world to engage in the celebration and discussion of their new Head Health Initiative. The NFL’s Evolution continues on and is picking up momentum.

A Pattern Emerges

Have you noticed the pattern of partnership and invitation demonstrated by the NFL? I sure have. From advocating country-wide adoption of the Zachery Lystedt Law, to expanding the reach of concussion awareness with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to collaborating and generously funding USA Football’s Heads-Up Football program, and now, this new demonstration of NFL’s commitment to the health, safety and the well-being of the people who love the game.

As I listened to each of the major collaborators of the Head Health Initiative, namely NCAA President Mark Emmert, U.S. Army Medical Command Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, I noticed another pattern emerge:

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a concern about people.  

  •        People, not just pro football players and other professional athletes.
  •        People, not just military personnel.
  •        People, not just collegiate, high school, and youth athletes.
  •        People, not just Americans.

The leaders gathered shared a desire to serve people of all walks of life who are engaged in all sorts of things anywhere in the world. When talking off script, each leader communicates a genuine desire to learn as they openly invite any and all ideas that can help make the games people play in life safer and more fun.

Heads Together

Nothing Says “Serious” Like $60 Million

There are two parts to the Head Health Initiative.

Part 1 – $40 Million

Development of improved imaging and diagnosis equipment that will allow targeted treatment therapy.

Part 2 – $20 Million

Funding and support for an innovation challenge that encourages the best and brightest minds anywhere in the world to offer technical solutions to better understand, protect, and diagnose brain injuries.

Exciting and inviting, yes, but that’s not what has me the most optimistic.

A Belief Shared By All

What is most compelling for me is the set of beliefs clearly stated and repeated by each of the investors. There is a shared belief that:

  • An answer is waiting to be found in the collaboration between the private and public sectors.
  • Encouraging innovation will attract the best ideas.
  • Playing sports means more to the future of our children than what can be observed during a practice or a game.
  • The very strength of our nation depends, in part, on the leadership skills learned by young athletes engaged in the challenges of competitive play.
  • It is the responsibility of leaders to collectively pull this movement forward.

You’re Invited

The NFL and GE have expanded the concentric rings of their influence through their collaboration and through the power of these beliefs.  Anyone who shares these beliefs should consider themselves invited to participate.

Related Articles:  Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches, Pink Footballs, Coach Moms changing the culture of youth sports

Related Tip of the Week:  Recognize Perfection, Evaluate Choices


Belief is Powerful

Stepford Students

After Sandy Hook, schools are easing outsider safety concerns, but perhaps a new danger is growing inside the building?

Article first published as Stepford Students on Technorati.

Across the country school administrators are addressing the safety concerns of parents. Districts are doing a great job installing security cameras and locks, and strategically assigning teachers at doorways to prevent evil doers from entering a building. These measures go a long way to ease concern, but could there be a different kind of danger growing inside the building?

Schools have always been on the lookout for students who were disassociated, alienated, or mentally ill. Until now, it’s felt like proactive measures to identify students needing help, but Sandy Hook changed everything. Now, it’s beginning to feel as if schools may be shifting their intention to scrutinizing students in an attempt to identify and remove potential future evil doers. Understandably, we all want to make sure that no one harms children like this again—ever. And yet without considering the human spirit and the unique qualities we encourage our children to explore, we may be missing something vital while we create a whole new danger to fear.

Controlling a Human

Remember the 1972 novel by Ira Levin, The Stepford Wives? Written at the height of the feminist movement, it fictionalized the lengths to which some would be willing to go to maintain control.  In Stepford, husbands banded together to enforce limits on the interests, achievements, and behaviors of their wives. The husbands felt threatened by their wives who were exploring the possibility of becoming something more than homemakers. Once the husbands realized that people can’t be controlled, they substituted their wives for something that could be controlled—robots.

Welcome to Stepford

What are the implications of a community focused on finding problems? They find problems. What are the implications of a child who is different in such a community? The child can become a problem found. Thinking back to The Stepford Wives, I wonder what it must feel like to consider moving a family to a   small upper-middle class community these days.  Stepping into a tightly monitored system with narrowly defined expectations about your child’s interests, achievement, and behavior could feel dangerous.

Beauty 450

Photo courtesy of

Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches

People don’t buy what they need, they buy what they want. We need to honor our volunteer parent coaches so that they continue to WANT to coach.

Article first appeared as “Protect the Kids; Honor the Coaches” in The Scarsdale Inquirer, September 21, 2012

People don’t buy what they need, they buy what they want.  Powerful influence addresses a person’s reasons for wanting something—not his or her need of it. It’s true for anything people buy or buy into:  cars, watches, and even rules.

NFL Youth Sports Health and Safety

I recently attended the inaugural NFL Youth Sports Health and Safety Workshop, hosted by Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner.   During the gathering, experts from a variety of disciplines presented credible information about the actions needed to make youth sports safer and more enjoyable.

The speakers focused on our need to know about concussions and sport safety and our need to follow the rules of the games we play.   In the end, he, and his collection of experts, stated that we’re really talking about a change in the culture of youth sports.  Clearly something must change if 57% of parents say they are less likely to allow their kids to play youth football.

But remember, we are motivated by our desires more than our needs.  Don’t believe me; think about obesity.  Americans are well informed about the dangers of poor nutrition and inactivity, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68% of adults over the age 20 are either fat or obese.

 Poor diets and rising obesity rates among Americans have persisted despite increased awareness and publicity regarding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.  The model predicts that dietary knowledge will have less influence on food choices in the face of immediate visceral factors. — “Is Dietary Knowledge Enough?  Hunger, Stress, and Other Roadblocks to Healthy Eating” by Lisa Mancino, United States Dept. of Agriculture


Visceral is the opposite of reasoned

The motives for everything we do are based on our emotional desires not our logical needs, therefore before we can create a compelling argument in favor of changing the culture of youth sports, we have to understand the emotional desires of all the stakeholders, starting with the coaches.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I am grateful to all the parents who generously volunteer to coach.  Without you we wouldn’t have a program, and so it becomes vital that actions taken to increase safety consider the emotional desires that move parents into action.  It’s simple:  If we don’t give the coaches what they want, they won’t want to coach.

What happens if a compelling argument in favor of a new coaching strategy flies in the face of a generous parent’s underlying motive for coaching?  Here’s a hypothetical example:

Stock broker father of a 3rd grade youth football player volunteers to coach. Here are just a few of the reasons he might have wanted to volunteer:

  • Time to bond with son / offsetting busy professional obligations
  • Social opportunity with peer coaches
  • Reliving fond memories as youth player / his dad coached him
  • Recognized in community as athletic, generous, and successful leader
  • Excuse to avoid other obligations
  • Business networking opportunity
  • Fulfills secret dream to be a football coach or youth leader
  • Lacks faith in current coaching program
    • Ensure safety and training effectiveness
    • Ensure playing time and position / no favoritism
    • Ensure child’s positive experience

Now, consider a few USA Football and NFL actions and initiatives:

This is only a small sampling of the actions discussed by USA Football and the NFL.  With growing concussion awareness, I expect there will be more initiatives and possibly a greater emphasis on flag football.  It’s all logically sound and yet youth coaches are resisting.

An Abundance of Ideas

In preparation for the August 22, 2012 NFL event, I educated myself by talking with experts.

  • Field and equipment safety experts talk about science and testing.
  • Youth sport coaches from across the country talk about strategy, pressure, and winning.
  • Former NFL players talk about the tragic price they’re paying now for the former glory of the grid iron.
  • Medical experts providing treatment for kids suffering sports related brain injuries talk about frustration and the growing numbers.
  • Parents of young athletes talk about risk and reward.

Concern is the common message behind all the ideas; concern that youth sports may become too risky.

Scarsdale Wisdom

I spoke to Scarsdale, New York’s, Melanie Spivak, former Middle School PTA President and Vice President PT Council, and mother of two Scarsdale alumni, Russell, now a senior at MIT, starting defensive lineman and team captain for the MIT Engineers, and Amanda, graduate of Syracuse University Whitmman School of Management.  We talked mostly about Russell’s experience in youth sports and she is quick to credit youth football for its role his success.   “He’s a bright and sensitive kid.  Football was dangerous, but it was the best thing he did both academically and socially.”  She talked about discipline, organizational skills, and the energy release that allowed him to focus.  She also talked about the social benefits, “Football gave him the option to be part of a social group as he entered his freshman year of high school and college.”

As the wife of Dr. Jeffrey Spivak, Director of the NYU Langone Hospital for Joint Diseases Spine Center, she is well aware of the risks and dangers of football.  The decision to allow Russell’s play was carefully considered by the Spivak family.  Melanie Spivak isn’t so different from any other parent I spoke to.  The biggest concerns are about control: the powerful control of a coach  “Once the kids are under the wing of the coach, it’s all about the coach.  Many times I’d have a question about something or something just didn’t sit well.  I found out that even though parents matter, the coach tips the scale.”  She advocates two strategies to help parents feel better about allowing kids to play:

  1. Stiffen rules and the penalties for infractions to support parents, players, and coaches.
  2. Find a way to simulate the experience of traumatic brain injury.  Much like the drunk driving simulator sponsored by the Scarsdale Task Force on Drugs and Alcohol, in which  high school students can experience driving under the influence of varying amounts of alcohol, Spivak thinks coaches, players, and parents would willing use greater caution if they could experience concussion first hand.

While I don’t believe the technology is available just yet, I believe the idea honors the vital role emotional desire plays in cultural change.

Honor the Why in the Buy

Coaches are people first.  Without honoring the person behind the clipboard we ultimately can’t honor our kids.  A change in youth sport culture starts by first understanding why people engage in youth sports and helping them want to play safe.  Sure, this will take time and be contentious; it’s nonetheless vital. In the meantime, I’m grateful that we have organizations like NFL and USA Football, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and outspoken parents, like Melanie Spivak, stepping out to lead us into the future.

“We accept the role of leadership and we believe we can make a difference.” –Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

Image courtesy of 89studio at