Shared from the 2016-09-04 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

HEALTH

Former 49ers executive decides if his grandson will play football

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Sarah Rice / Special to The Chronicle 2012

A San Francisco Pop Warner team practices in 2012. Carmen Policy considered rules, coaches’ training and safety protocols before letting his grandson play.

My career started as a trial attorney and then morphed into a fantasy-like position as an NFL executive. During all of those experiences, I have had to make many decisions that carried critical consequences for clients, companies and sports organizations. The process never becomes easy or stress-free, but when challenges are constantly presented, you learn to handle them methodically. This year, I was confronted with one of the most important and demanding decisions that I have faced in years — whether I would allow my grandson to play football.

My wife, Gail, and my daughter Kerry asked to talk to me over coffee one morning in early April. I knew immediately something serious was brewing. They explained that my 8½- year-old grandson Nicholas had an insatiable desire to play tackle football for the Carpy Gang football team, which is part of a Pop Warner-type league in the Napa Valley where we live. Their initial reactions were totally negative.

They attempted to persuade Nicholas to repeat his experience with flag football and abandon the concept of a contact sport, as they were concerned about the risk of head injuries. A major household conflict developed but finally a compromise was struck: All three of them agreed to turn the entire matter over to me, and my decision would be final. Gail and Kerry knew that all of our eight grandchildren are extremely special in my eyes and I would do everything possible to keep our young athlete out of harm’s way.

Nicholas obviously believed that my love of the sport and his desire to play would weigh heavily in his favor.

I chose to apply a simple formula that I had developed over my career, before my daily routine revolved around community work and wine-making. I refer to my approach to decision-making as DARE:

Determine all knowable facts;

Analyze all the surroundings circumstances;

Risk evaluation must include every type of risk; and

Exercise good judgment in view of the above.

The first step I took was to check with doctors and knowledgeable people who understand and are involved in youth football.

Next I explored the rules that the league would play by and how its coaches are equipped to deal with the energetic and impressionable boys placed under their supervision. Coach Corey Beck, who leads the Carpy Gang, was professionally responsive as we sat down to analyze the structure of his program and the training he and his assistants had received. He explained how he became certified as a youth football coach through college-and NFL-approved organizations such as USA Football.

This coach knew what he was talking about and recognized the gravity of his responsibility, especially in light of the fact that his sons would be two of his players. In response to the potential risks, he outlined the league rules around protecting a young player’s health and endurance:

There are significant restrictions on contact during practice.

Coaches are scrupulous about eliminating serious size discrepancies among players.

Water breaks are mandated, players must wear helmets covered with soft padding for all practices, and kickoffs and kickoff returns are eliminated.

Each coach is thoroughly trained in CPR, and paramedics are at every game.

There are specific protocols governing any injury or appearance of exhaustion.

Then I weighed this against the rewards. Team sports in general and football in particular are phenomenal opportunities to build a young person’s character and teach some of life’s most important lessons — lessons I knew were important for my grandson. Coming from a privileged background offers no advantage on the playing field. Hard work, drive, discipline and a sense of commitment are the building blocks of success — which becomes very apparent very quickly.

You soon learn that a player with heart who helps his team compete and, we hope, win is to be respected and admired. These are principles and values not easily learned if young people spend all their time surfing the Internet or playing video games.

And, finally, there are risks involved with any active and competitive sport, just as there are risks awaiting them when they are on a bicycle, the school playground or even crossing a street.

When I announced my decision to approve the Carpy Gang program, Nicholas, of course, was delighted. Gail and Kerry were relatively calm after I explained my thinking, outlined my research and walked them through how I weighed the risks and rewards to reach the decision that ultimately carried the day. Knowledge definitely counts as we make lifestyle decisions involving our children, but you also need a dose of good luck as you let them live their lives and their dreams.

Carmen Policy, an attorney, is the former CEO and president of the San Francisco 49ers. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at http://bit.ly/SFChronicleletters.

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