After retiring from broadcasting, John Madden became a fierce advocate for player safety

Sport Techie

December 29, 2021

We all know about John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach. John Madden, the legendary broadcaster. John Madden, the video-game icon.

Here’s one thing that isn’t as widely known about Coach Madden. After retiring from NBC after Super Bowl XLIII, he became a fierce advocate for player safety.

As an unpaid adviser to the Commissioner, Madden’s input led to the creation of the Coaches Subcommittee to the NFL’s Competition Committee. Through that body, which currently is co-chaired by Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Madden’s group helped push for plenty of changes aimed at making the game safer.

When the NFL recognized the importance of keeping players who have suffered concussions out of action until fully healed, John Madden became a driving force in efforts to identify whether a player has suffered a concussion during a given game. He coined the phrase, “When in doubt, leave them out” in order to ensure that no player will be at risk of suffering a second concussion not long after sustaining an initial brain injury. Working with Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, John Madden came up with the idea for empowering medical officials to stop the action in order to identify players potentially in distress and to remove them from the game.

At times, Madden became upset by the practical implementation of these safety measures, which often is impeded by propaganda aimed at ensuring that a player who isn’t actually concussed isn’t kept from playing when he is otherwise healthy. When then-Rams quarterback Case Keenum wasn’t removed from a game in 2015 after he clearly had suffered brain trauma, Madden became incensed. He specifically was infuriated a year earlier, after former Chargers safety Jahleel Addae remained in a game after suffering an apparent concussion.

As explained at the time, based on information from a source with knowledge of the dynamics: “Coach Madden has a high degree of motivation on this topic, and he strongly believes that the professionals charged with safeguarding player health must be expected to do their jobs — and that if they can’t, someone else needs to be hired to do those jobs.”

Coach Madden continued to push and push and push for greater sensitivity to potential head injuries. To ensure that no player would be put at potential risk of further trauma after suffering a concussion. To protect the game and those who play it from a disastrous outcome.

He constantly studied plays, requesting film from the league office so that certain aspects of the play could be reviewed, from a safety standpoint.

At one point, John Madden suggested that the three-point stance should eventually be removed from the game, in order to limit the repetitive blows to the head suffered by offensive and defensive linemen. Hits that aren’t concussions by that, over time, can create neurological problems.

Coach Madden also had significant influence over efforts to push for improved helmet technology, along with better helmet fitting in order to prevent helmets from spontaneously coming off during games. He also hated the overbuilt/non-standard facemasks, which at one point became so large and bulky that it made players fearless about getting their heads in the fray.

As we search for a way to properly honor and remember Coach Madden, one way to do so would be to embrace and to admire his efforts to make the game as safe as it can be, for everyone who plays it. Too many fans, media, and even players long for the bloodsport days of the game, when the brutality was commonplace and devastating hits were celebrated. Given what we now know, efforts must continue to strike the right balance between the best interests of the game of football and the best interests of those who play it.

If Coach Madden, who loved the game as much if not more than anyone, recognized and respected the importance of ongoing efforts to make football as safe as it can be, maybe everyone else should, too.

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