Mon | Jul 24, 2017

Zachary Harding | Tackling Ron Mason on flag football rant

Published:Wednesday | April 5, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Zachary Harding
AP Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley runs for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game in Los Angeles on Sunday, December 11, 2016.
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With reference to the contributed article 'Cruel realities of American football', written by Ronald Mason and published in The Sunday Gleaner on April 2, 2017, it's good to see the writer taking so much time to research and comment on our planned introduction of American football in Jamaican schools.

However, it is unfortunate that he has misunderstood some aspects of what is being proposed by the Jamaican American Athletic Development Incorporated (of which I am a director) and, therefore, has inaccurately represented some of the facts.

For the benefit of the readers (and also the writer), here are some important clarifications:

We are not spending "J$100 million to introduce flag football to Jamaican high schools", as he said in his article.

We are actually introducing the full version of the game using top-of-the-line safety equipment for every single student, accompanied with the latest technology and training methodology. Flag football is only part of the introductory process in order for students to appreciate the basics of the game. All measures will be taken into account to ensure the safety of the students.

Yes, there may be broken fingers and other injuries. People break bones and sustain injuries playing various sports. I fractured my skull and nearly lost an eye playing cricket in high school in Jamaica. I tore my ACL and dislocated my collar bone playing soccer. People fall off of horses and die doing equestrian and playing polo. There are risks and injuries in all athletic sports, albeit some more than others.

 

NO COST TO MINISTRY

 

Second, this programme is of no cost to the Ministry of Education or the Government of Jamaica. This is a 100 per cent JAMAAD-funded initiative, through donors and sponsors. The bulk of the J$100 million is the cost of the donated safety equipment for the students. We are putting safety first.

Mr Mason also stated, "We have no proper screening before someone is allowed to step on a football field."

This is a good point, and I would extend it to say there is no proper screening for any sport in Jamaica before any of our athletes start playing. Period. Therefore, we will be doing screening and conducting health checks before the students start to play football, and this should be extended nationally to all students in all sports, especially in light of the recent tragic and unfortunate deaths of soccer players on the field.

We will also be providing defibrillators to all the schools that are participating in the programme as well as first-aid kits. We will be working closely with the schools' health departments and nurses to ensure proper training and will also engage the medical community to sensitise them to the injuries associated with the sport. I don't see this as a problem, but as an opportunity to expand the capabilities of our health-care system to deal with sports-related injuries.

USA Football, the national governing body for amateur American football in the United States, is an independent, non-profit entity based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We are using their coaching programme to certify our coaches. They are currently piloting a 'Modified Tackle' version of the game designed to enhance and strengthen the player development pathway and serve as a bridge between flag football and 11-person full-field tackle. This will maximise the player experience, paving a way for the right-age, right-stage approach.

Safety is at the forefront of this initiative because of the widely acknowledged safety risks associated with the game. The Seattle Seahawks have even been training a new system of tackling that is based on safer practices. The game itself is changing and getting safer.

 

MISGUIDED

 

Mr Mason also stated, "To hold out the promise that they can rise to Level 1 of the 2,000 jobs available in American football is to practise deception of the highest order."

What? Again, untrue, misguided and insulting. To actually suggest that we are practising 'deception' is slanderous.

There has been NO promise to anyone about getting jobs to play American football professionally. This is a STUDENT-athlete programme, with no promise other than providing opportunities for students to get scholarships (not jobs) to further their EDUCATION. There are more than 90,000 such scholarships given out every year, totalling some US$3 billion. It is our hope that we can develop Jamaican students to be eligible to benefit from some of these scholarships. And yes, there is precedent for it.

At the opening of the 2015 football season, there were more than 200 players from the island of American Samoa on rosters of Division I college football teams. That country has a population of only 55,000! Twenty-eight were slated to play in the NFL. If you begin to count other Polynesians Pacific Islanders from Hawaii, Tonga, Easter Island, and New Zealand the impact is even greater.

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