No one knows better than a former player the dangers playing football presents. So when Slade Norris, who spent four years in the NFL and played for the Raiders, Seahawks, Jaguars and Lions during an overall 17-year tenure in the sport, talks about concussions he has a perspective that can’t be readily duplicated and shouldn’t be ignored.
“I never had a diagnosed concussion during my playing days and due to that I never considered it a problem,” Norris told me during a recent e-mail interview. There were plays when I would hit someone and be stunned for an instant, but there were never any lingering effects.”
But Norris acknowledges he now has a more advanced view of the situation, “My views have changed,” he adds. “With more and more research surfacing, it is becoming evident that there is a link between CTE and repetitive, sub-concussive hits to the head.” Now there needs to be much more research done for us to fully understand this link, but there is enough to recognize that we need to limit this type of contact throughout not just football, but all sports.”
So Norris and his company have created what they feel is a proactive approach towards player safety. He feels talk about different helmets, while well meaning doesn’t address the actual problem. “Our plan is comprehensive and yet simple,” Norris says. “We have created Flex Football. Flex Football is a new age, high intensity yet low impact way to approach the sport of football that bridges the gap between flag and tackle. We are infusing it into the market through two methods.”
“First is our Flex 9v9 gameplay being played at the youth level up to adult leagues. This format is inspired by NFL practices focusing on fundamentals through a hands first approach to all contact. Each player wears a soft shell helmet and shoulder pad provided by our partners at Rocksolid which enables the experience of every element of true football outside of the tackle. Players are downed by either a two hand touch option or pulling a flag. For the first time, all football athletes (flag, tackle, lineman) can compete together safely while learning skills that will make them safer players when they choose to participate in tackle football.”
“Our second method is infusing the Flex style of play into the in-season and off-season of tackle football. We are working with high schools and youth programs to utilize Rocksolid’s soft shell equipment two days out of the practice week. With our knowledge of the possible harm of repetitive sub-concussive hits to the head, this practice approach would limit those contacts by 50%. With that reduction percentage along with the hands first approach to the game that is being committed to muscle memory on every play, we are immediately making a difference in the sport. “
Norris supports recent rule changes in college and pro football, though he adds there needs to be more clarification and explanation of them to players. He doesn’t fear that football’s popularity will decline dangerously in the coming years, but says you can already see a dip in youth participation. Above all, he feels the flex football approach is critical to making the game safer at all levels underneath pro and college. “What I am hoping is that with the institution of Flex Football throughout the football space, further changes to the rules of the game are not needed. I played linebacker. I love the aggressiveness of football. I would much rather make rule changes to the practice week and off-season, rather than continuously water down the product we see on the weekends.”
Time will tell if this will be a welcome alternative to the sport. Those who want more information should contact Slade Norris and his company National Flex Football. Their website is http://www.flexfootball.com