Starting in 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) teamed up with football helmet manufacturers, the National Football League (NFL), and others to eliminate the use of outdated football helmets and teach safer game play among youth football players. The “Youth Football Brain Safety” initiative has helped remove youth helmets that are 10 years old or older and replace them with new helmets at no cost to the youth football leagues. In exchange for these new helmets, coaches must participate in training aimed at building awareness of concussions, proper equipment fitting and safe play methods. The training component is at the heart of the program’s goal of culture change through raising new generations of football players who value safety.

The helmet replacement and safer play initiative has proven an effective way to win support from critics of football helmet safety, such as U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Senator Udall also introduced the Children’s Sports Athletic Equipment Act of 2011 and authored a letter to CPSC Chairman Tenenbaum requesting an investigation into helmet safety standards. Winning the attention and gratitude of Senator Udall was therefore no small feat. Senator Udall said in a statement, “I am pleased to see the NFL, USA Football and manufacturers working together to make sure our young football players are not wearing 10-year-old helmets that no longer meet industry safety standards. Increasing awareness of equipment safety and sports concussion will help protect young players from injury.”

Partnering with organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association, Rawlings and Riddell, the program has shown that a public-private partnership can be an effective way to encourage product safety. It has recently inspired more major youth football programs, such as Pop Warner Football for youth, to improve their players’ safety by partnering with USA Football. With these results, the Youth Football Brain Safety initiative could prove to be an effective model for companies looking to meaningfully but practicably deal with product safety issues associated with their products.

Alice Kilpatrick