Keith Brooking understands why parents are concerned about the risks associated with the sport he devoted his life to, but he also thinks they’re only getting one side of the story.
Brooking and a number of other former NFL players hope to help clear the air at a free clinic Sunday in Bluffton. The Keith Brooking Kids & Pros Clinic is set for 1-5 p.m. Sunday at the Bluffton Recreation Center off Ulmer Road. The non-contact camp will teach safe tackling techniques and position fundamentals to players ages 7-13, and will include a parent information session featuring talks on proper equipment fitting, concussion awareness, and safety issues.
“I think the game of football is kind of under attack,” said Brooking, a Bluffton resident who retired in 2012 after a 15-year NFL career that included five Pro Bowl seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. “A lot of parents don’t really have the knowledge, and they hear the message that’s out there and think it’s not healthy for their kids to do.”
Brooking has teamed up with Buddy Curry, another former Falcons linebacker who in 2002 founded Kids & Pros, a non-profit group that engages retired NFL players in their communities to teach football fundamentals and character lessons through camps and clinics for players ages 7-13.
Curry contacted Brooking about running one of his three-day camps in Bluffton, but Brooking felt a one-day clinic would be more appropriate for the inaugural event. After seeing nearly 300 players pre-register online, Brooking fully expects to expand the scope next year.
Volunteer coaches from area youth organizations and high schools will team up with Brooking and other former Falcons to teach basic fundamentals and safety measures, including USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program, while a parent information session from 1:30-2:30 p.m. will educate parents about the dangers associated with the sport – or lack thereof. Brooking said concerns about concussions at the youth level are largely unfounded, and while concussion dangers increase at the high school level and above, head injuries are less common in youth football than many other youth sports.
“Football has been a huge part of my life,” Brooking said. “I played for 31 years in a row and I feel perfectly fine. My mind is great.
“We’re letting the parents know there are risks in the game of football, but the youth coaches here are trying to go about it the right way. There are techniques and fundamentals that reduce those risks, and that’s what we’re trying to teach.”
Online registration has closed, but players may register on site by arriving by 12:30 p.m. Sunday.