CLEVELAND — Parents, before telling your little athlete to step away from the game controller, you may want to know about changes in store for one of the biggest selling video games of all time.
EA Sports, maker of Madden NFL football, is making some important changes that ultimately could prevent injuries in young athletes.
When the latest version of the game debuts this fall, it will feature a safer way to tackle to help prevent concussions.
Head injuries are a huge concern in the sport of football, all the way from peewee leagues to the NFL. So where did EA, a multi-billion-dollar company, get the idea to make the change?
It came in the form of a suggestion from, of all places, Cleveland.
Pat Hopkins has played outside linebacker since fourth grade and is now part of the St. Ignatius Wildcats team.
“This past year I got hit pretty hard in the Glenville game, and I felt a little woozy,” Hopkins recalls.
By the nature of his position, Hopkins is one of the players most at risk for concussions, and one of Coach Chuck Kyle’s biggest concerns.
“Kids want to play but, right now, parents in America are a little concerned,” Kyle says.
Millions of kids suffer concussions every year, playing sports or playing in the backyard. The spotlight, fair or not, is on football.
So the NFL decided to form “Heads Up Football,” a committee made up of doctors, former NFL players and coaches.
Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle represents the high school level. Together, they developed a five-step technique to protect the spine and head while tackling.
But the question was, how do you get kids to learn it?
While talking with a graphic artist friend, Coach Kyle determined animation was needed. And what better animation than the popular Madden video game?
Kyle sent the idea to the Heads Up Football committee.
“A couple of weeks later, I’m in a meeting at NFL headquarters in New York, and here’s Commissioner Roger Goodell two seats away from me, and I think I’m going to bring it up,” Kyle says.
The NFL was quickly on-board and convinced EA Sports as well. And now the soon-to-be released Madden 25 will feature the new tackling techniques.
So from a young age, kids will see their idols tackle in a way that protects their brain.
“Kids, as many video games as they’re playing now, and for as graphic as those can be and as kind of lifelike as those can be, I think it’s a good learning tool,” says Dr. Rick Figler, of the Cleveland Clinic.
Figler has been working on House Bill 143, to help educate parents, athletes and coaches on concussions and safer ways to play sports.
Figler’s department saw over 1,000 concussions last year. He says 20 percent were football-related.
“We want to protect the brain. We only have one and there’s no replacement,” Figler says.
Pat Hopkins will be one of the first on the field to put the safer tackling techniques into practice. But he says concussions will always be on his brain.
“I’ll be a little nervous, but it’s part of the game,” Hopkins says.
The new way of tackling will be featured in Madden 25’s “skills trainer” section. It’s where players learn how to use the game and learn deeper mechanics.
The goal of Heads Up Football is for every coach and players at all levels to use the same techniques and terminology.
(Full disclosure: Chuck Kyle is the father of WKYC reporter Maureen Kyle. Maureen heard about this story at the family dinner table)