Posts Tagged ‘USA Football’

Heads Up Football’s False Concussion Claims Exposed by New York Times

A recent article in the New York Times entitled “N.F.L.-Backed Youth Program Says It Reduced Concussions. The Data Disagrees” has exposed USA Football / Heads Up Football for publicizing misleading data and conclusions about the findings in the Datalys study. In their blogs, USAFB crowed about the effectiveness of the Heads Up Football program in reducing concussions; however, the actual data from the study do not support this.

Sadler Sports Insurance realized that misleading statements were being made several months ago after an independent review of the Datalys Study and mentioned this in our blog entitled AYF Study: 2005-15 Concussion Trends in Youth Tackle Football. We are in favor of getting the head out of the tackle, but have serious concerns about any program that publishes misleading conclusions in its blogs, especially when making the claim that their program is the standard in youth tackle football.

USAFB hired Datalys to study effectiveness of HUF and  practice contact restrictions

USAB hired and funded Datalys Center, an independent research firm specializing in sports injury research and prevention, to study player safety in youth football on a national level. They did so in an effort to promote safer playing standards and lessen injury risk, including concussions. Datalys completed a study in 2014 entitled Comprehensive Coach Education and Practice Contact Restriction Guidelines Result in Lower Injury Rates in Youth American Football.  The study compared overall injury rates, lost time injury rates, and concussion rates between three groups:

  1. Heads Up Football Leagues with Practice Restrictions (Combined HUF | Practice restriction)
  2. Heads Up Football Leagues without Practice Restrictions (HUF Only)
  3. Non Heads Up Football Leagues (Non HUF)

The study has been widely cited by USAFB and the NFL as evidence that Heads Up Football  leagues have significantly fewer injuries and fewer concussions than Non HUF leagues.

The unstated reason for the study was to prove that the HUF Only group significantly reduced concussion rates vs the Non HUF group.

It’s my opinion that the primary reason for the study was to find out if the HUF initiative reduces concussion rates in youth tackle football. Youth tackle football is under attack by the media and various researchers and activists, not because there are too many overall injuries, but instead because there are too many concussions and subconcussive impacts.

However, the statistics generated from the study were not favorable for the HUF Only leagues as regards to reduction of concussion rates. The concussion rates for the Non HUF leagues were actually a little lower than the HUF Only group, as will be explained.

USAFB made misleading claims about Datalys study

In various online publications such as its blog, USAFB made the following statement as regards the Datalys study (but recently taken down):

“Compared to non-Heads Up Football leagues, leagues that adopted Heads Up Football had a 34 percent reduction in concussions in practices and a 29 percent reduction of concussions in games.”

To the extent this statement appears to compare HUF Only leagues vs. Non HUF leagues, this is just not true according to Table 2 in the 2014 Datalys study.

What the math really says about concussion rates in HUF Only leagues vs Non HUF leagues

Table 2 of the Datalys study indicated the following about concussion rates in Combined HUF | Practice restriction leagues vs. HUF Only leagues vs. Non HUF leagues:


Practice concussion rate

Game concussion rate

Combined HUF|Practice restriction




HUF Only








Concussion rate is the rate per 1000 “athlete-exposures,” defined as one athlete’s participation in one practice or one competition.

It’s clear that the concussion rates are actually slightly greater for the HUF Only leagues as compared to the Non HUF leagues in both practices and in games, although these slight differences were statistically insignificant.

Practice restrictions drove the reduction in concussion rates in the study

The Combined HUF | Practice Restriction Group produced significantly lower concussion rates as compared to both the HUF Only leagues and the Non HUF leagues. Why is this the case? Is it the combined synergistic effect of HUF + practice restrictions or is it primarily due to practice restrictions?

The researchers lamented not having a group of leagues to study that consisted of leagues with practice restrictions, but not HUF. That is the only true way to isolate the practice restriction variable. Regardless, instituting HUF without practice restrictions did not reduce concussions.

Was a new group formed after the fact to rescue HUF?

It is possible that the misleading statistics referenced in the USAFB blogs differ from the Datalys study due to an attempt to rehabilitate the poor HUF Only performance?  A new group may have been formed, called “Leagues that implemented Heads Up Football,” consisting of all leagues that used HUF, regardless of whether or not they also used practice restrictions. Data from this new group is consistent with the statistics that were referenced in the USAFB blogs, which USAFB has since taken down. Because the injury rates were much lower in HUF leagues that used practice restrictions, the Datalys report separated out these groups to show the difference, whereas the USAFB blogs may have combined these groups to hide these differences. The statistics that were created in the blogs were misleading because they implied that HUF was the driving force behind lower injury rates and don’t give the practice restrictions the proper credit.

Our conclusions and what this means for brain injury / concussion risk management

We still believe that removing the head from the tackle is an important element of a youth tackle football brain injury / concussion risk management program.  However, it is clearly not the primary solution as touted by USAFB and the NFL. USAFB has hurt its credibility with this misleading marketing campaign.

Beware USA Heads Up Football League Contractual Requirements

Leagues forced to share liability limits and assume liability that should belong to HUF

Last September, we posted “USA | Heads Up Football Imposes Onerous Contractual Requirements On Leagues” in an effort to educate our clients on how they were exposing themselves to legal risk when they signed the 2015 Heads Up Football (HUF) contract. In summary, most leagues that signed the contract were unknowingly reducing (i.e. giving up) their valuable league insurance limits by sharing them with HUF and were contractually accepting liability that should otherwise belong to HUF.

This conclusion was not just my opinion as a 30-year veteran sports insurance specialist, sports risk manager, and attorney, but was also the opinion of the experts at a major sports insurance carrier.

HUF is taking advantage of its superior negotiating strength to transfer insurance responsibility and litigation risk to the leagues that usually don’t have the luxury of staff legal counsel to review contracts on their behalf. That’s a smart move by HUF if no one notices and they can get away with it. However, it’s my job to educate my league clients so that they are informed decision makers before they give away their rights and protection.

Negotiation attempts with HUF have not been productive

During the off season, we shared our concerns and thoughts with USA Football about a more equitable HUF contract that would be fair to our insurance clients.  However, the recently released 2016 Heads Up Football Youth Coach Training agreement does not provide any relief on these unfair provisions. This is very disconcerting, and leagues need to understand this risk prior to signing the 2016 contract.

What do we have against USA Heads Up Football?

Absolutely nothing. We commend them for developing the HUF program and they are one of the few vendors providing this type of training to get the head out of the tackle. We just want them to back their product and to use their own insurance limits if they are sued in conjunction with a league for negligent course content or negligent training.

Does USA Heads Up Football have a different opinion?

Yes, they have a different opinion and think that their contract is equitable. We just disagree and want to work with them to clarify some provisions. This is a highly technical contractual problem with potentially serious consequences for our clients.

Would you turn over your liability insurance limits to football helmet manufacturers and agree to accept their liability?

What if you wanted to buy new football helmets for your league and you approached the big helmet manufacturers, Riddell, Schutt, and Adams? And what if they told you that you could not buy their product unless you named them as a primary additional insured under your General Liability policy and signed an indemnification / hold harmless provision agreeing to accept their liability if you did not meet 10 of their conditions? I’m sure you would be outraged. You would probably be wondering why they did not want to be responsible for the safety of their own product and why they wanted to tap into your insurance limits and reduce your potential coverage when they already buy their own insurance. This situation is very similar to what HUF is trying to accomplish. Both are vendors of a high-risk product and/or service. If you wouldn’t accept this from the helmet manufacturers, why would you accept the same from HUF?

Are there any alternatives?

Some youth football leagues may want to explore other coach training options to get the head out of the tackle such as the  2015 Seahawks Tackling video. The  Seattle Seahawks video was developed by coach Pete Carroll and delivers online training to coaches on rugby style tackling techniques. It includes drill demonstrations and actually displays techniques during live action. The 2014 video was updated for 2015 and is touted as an excellent resource for youth tackle football coaches. AYF has developed an online test that can be found on their website that goes along with the video to verify that the coach has learned the essential elements.

Coach training to remove the head from the tackle is an important part of any youth tackle football concussion/brain injury risk management program. We discussed this in our recent post, “The Truth About Concussion Risk Management In Youth Tackle Football.”

USA|Heads Up Football Imposes Onerous Contractual Requirements on Leagues

Shifts responsibility to leagues to pay for concussion lawsuits arising out of Heads Up course content and instruction

USA Football (USAFB), the governing body of youth football and potential deep pocket target in future lawsuits involving brain injury and concussions, has imposed onerous contractual requirements on member leagues that have adopted USAFB’s Heads Up Football (HUF) tackle training course. The potential effect of these contractual requirements is to shift the responsibility to pay for brain injury lawsuits away from USAFB/HUF and to the leagues in cases where both parties are named as defendants in a lawsuit.

Read fine the print for objectionable insurance and indemnification/hold harmless provisions

Prior to being able to access the 2015 HUF training course, leagues must first sign an 8-page contract with USAFB which includes objectionable sections dealing with both insurance requirements and hold harmless/indemnification transfer of liability. This is a classic example of “risk transfer 101” where the party in power imposes its superior strength and bargaining power on the weaker party. Furthermore, in this case, the party that is being shielded (USAFB|HUF) is providing a high-risk service that could be a lightning rod for potential litigation.

Without getting deep into the technicalities, to follow is a brief summary of the objections:

 The insurance requirements section is worded to require the league to name USAFB|HUF as an additional insured under the league’s General Liability policy and furthermore states that the league’s insurance is to be primary to USAFB|HUF’s policy. The intent appears to be to shift the responsibility to pay for legal defense and settlement from USAFB|HUF’s insurance carrier to the league’s insurance carrier in cases where negligence is alleged against both parties.

 The indemnification/hold harmless provision requires the league to assume the liability of USAFB|HUF in the event that the league breaches or defaults on any one of the 10 member obligations when implementing the HUF program. Leagues that can’t prove that they have implemented all 10 requirements may unknowingly be assuming liability that would normally belong to USAFB|HUF.

Complaints by leagues, insurance carriers, insurance agents

These requirements have resulted in numerous complaints by local leagues, national youth football sanctioning bodies, and insurance agents and carriers that specialize in this niche. At least one prominent insurance carrier that serves the sports niche has refused to comply with the additional insured requirement for many of its clients.

Example of how many brain injury lawsuits may play out

Any concussion/brain injury lawsuit filed by an injured player is likely to name multiple defendants including the league and its directors, officers, and staff as well as the vendor that provided the tackle training instruction, i.e. USA Football|Heads Up Football. Under the legal theory of contributory negligence, for example, the league may be found to be 50% negligent (for negligent supervision and instruction) and USAFB|HUF may be found to be 50% negligent (for negligent course content and instruction).

Normally in such cases the insurance carriers of both parties would pay for the respective parties’ own legal defense and the court apportioned negligence percentage of settlement or adverse jury verdict costs. However, with the addition of the objectionable insurance requirements and indemnification/hold harmless provision, it is feared that the outcome would be altered so that the league would be responsible to pay for all of USAFB|HUF’s legal defense and settlement costs. In other words, the league could be responsible to pay for 100% of all legal defense costs and settlement costs for both parties. At least that is the opinion of several experienced and reputable insurance and risk management experts who have reviewed the terms of the contract.

4 reasons why the objectionable requirements are unfair and detrimental to leagues, insurance carriers, and youth tackle football as a whole

  1.  In cases where both the league and USAFB|HUF are named in a lawsuit, the General Liability insurance carrier of USAFB|HUF should be responsible for paying for its own legal defense and any settlement or adverse jury verdict costs to the extent that a court apportions negligence to USAFB|HUF.  USAFB|HUF should have enough confidence in its own course content and instruction to be willing to assume the risks of its own negligence.
  2. The insurance requirement is backwards in that it should be the league that requests USAFB|HUF to issue a certificate evidencing that it carries $1,000,000 in General Liability and in naming the league as “additional insured.” After all, USAFB|HUF is the vendor that is providing the high-risk service in exchange for a fee. Leagues should require all their vendors to provide such insurance protection including umpire crews, concessions, field maintenance, janitorial, fireworks, etc., instead of the other way around, as is the case here.
  3. Any time a league names another party as an additional insured, the league is sharing its limits with the additional insured. This results in a reduction of limits available to the league and its directors, officers, employees, and volunteers. In a situation where a vendor is providing a high-risk service, additional insured status should only be granted when absolutely necessary to protect an additional insured against the sole negligence of the league.
  4. By deflecting the claims to the local leagues and their carriers, USAFB|HUF could be damaging the leagues’ loss records and jeopardizing their access to affordable insurance or any insurance in the future. In the relatively small niche of youth tackle football insurance, adverse claims history can quickly snowball and impact the few underwriters of this coverage.

Leagues should demand that USAFB | HUF amend the contract

Leagues should demand a more equitable contract with amended insurance requirements and an indemnification/hold harmless provision that restores fairness to the equation. In cases where negligence is alleged against both parties, each party should be responsible for its own negligence. One acceptable solution would be alter the current contract to drop the additional insured requirement and the indemnification/hold harmless obligation on the part of the league should not be triggered by failure to comply with all 10 of the member obligations.

Recent discussions with USAFB over these concerns have resulted in incremental improvements for our American Youth Football clients; however, the provisions are still troublesome in my opinion.

USAFB|HUF should be commended on its development and implementation of the Heads Up tackle training program. However, leagues should think twice about signing the contract as it now exists.

John Sadler