It's a big weekend for youth football. Hundreds of young players have descended on Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the Pop Warner Super Bowl, not to mention Gillette Stadium is hosting six high school state championship games today.
While much of the attention is on the young players and their coaches, we took some time out to talk to Chris Golic, wife of former NFL player Mike Golic and a representative of football moms everywhere through her work with USA Football's Heads Up program. Here, Chris discusses her role, the recent developments in health and safety, and why she believes it's a great time for kids to be involved in team sports.
Some people have described you as the quintessential football mom. As a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee, do you represent all the other mothers out there?
I feel like that's really what I'm equipped to do. I mean, I've spent my whole life doing it. I want to be the voice for the moms that I go out and talk to. But then I also want to be the voice back to the moms, letting them know what we're doing on the other end with Heads Up to make the game safer.
What changes have taken place in regards to safety?
The position on concussions has changed a lot. When my kids were younger, they would hold up a couple fingers and if you could get close to how many fingers were up, that was good enough. We realize that things are different now and we need to address concussions and treat them like any other injury.
Also, educating moms – that's a big change. When my kids were little, I would acquiesce to my husband a lot, but I think it's important for moms – because they take the kids back and forth to practice and they have the equipment in their cars – to be more informed on what's going on and feel confident enough to be an advocate for their kids when they're playing football.
There also seems to be an effort to bring mothers together, with events like the Moms Clinics and new initiatives such as the Touchdown Moms Facebook community.
That's a great thing because they feel unity. A lot of moms have expressed to me that they feel peer pressure from other moms out there. They're getting the 'I can't believe you're letting your son play football' thing, so they do have a common bond when they come together with other moms whose kids play football. We're not there to make the decision for them, but we want to give them good information to make a solid decision for their family, based on fact and not on fear.
Why do you think there's so much fear regarding youth football?
You tend to hear all the worst case scenarios in the media. You don't hear the millions of stories where the kids play football, have a great time doing it and learn a lot. You don't hear those stories.
Hundreds of New England-area moms took part in the free clinic, which will included education on proper equipment fitting; concussion awareness; heat and hydration; and USA Football???s Heads Up Football program.
Did you see the positive impact of youth sports on your own kids?
Absolutely. I think it gives your kids an identity and something to hang their hat on – that they're an athlete. They tend to be very proud of that. I have a daughter who's a swimmer at Notre Dame and I noticed, especially as a teenage girl, that being a swimmer gave her confidence; it gave her something to focus on at a time when girls are always looking for other people's approval and tend to focus on their outside appearance.
But there are injuries and scary moments in youth athletics. Did you experience any of that with your children?
When my middle son, Jake, was in high school he did suffer a concussion and he did in college as well. This just goes to show you the change since my boys were in high school. When Jake suffered the first concussion, I had a pit in my stomach, but because my husband played football, I just kind of let him do his thing. They walked over to the ambulance, they talked to Jake for a while and then a few minutes later, Jake went trotting out onto the field. In this day and age, that wouldn't be allowed. But back then, Dad said it was OK, the EMT thought it was OK, and off he went playing. Now I'm telling moms, don't go along with that anymore. Speak up.
It wasn't that long ago that your son was in high school, so the changes have occurred quickly.
It's been sweeping change. I'm happy to see that a lot of good has come out of [all the bad stories]. It's forced us to not only look at concussions; it's forced us to look at everything across the board: how we're teaching football, what we can do fundamentally to make the game better and safer, addressing hydration and how coaches should be dealing with that. I feel like there's never been a safer time for your kids to play youth sports because we have addressed so many of the things that were kind of let go five or 10 years ago.