JACKSONVILLE – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spent Friday at EverBank Field.
The day's emphasis was health and safety, with Goodell accepting the inaugural Leadership in Sports Health, Safety and Research Award on behalf of the National Football League.
The award, given by the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, acknowledged the NFL's involvement in JSMP's Project 17 initiative – an ongoing effort to place full-time certified athletic trainers in all 17 Duval County Public School System high schools by 2020.
"We want our kids to participate in sports, and do it in the safest way possible," Goodell said during the inaugural Sports Health, Safety and Research Award luncheon at EverBank Field. "We see the importance of kids playing sports and doing it safely, so my hat's off to this community and we thank you."
Goodell answered questions during the luncheon and in a town-hall forum beforehand with Jaguars sponsors and partners.
"I love the things that come from playing sports," Goodell said during the luncheon. "I love the values that come from playing sports, the perseverance, the determination, the discipline, the teamwork that we talk so much about in football. In whatever sport you participate you get that value."
JSMP and Duval County Public Schools announced that Parker and Westside High Schools will be the latest DCPS schools with a full-time trainer under Project 17. Those schools will have full-time trainers beginning in 2016-2017.
Jackson, Baldwin Middle/Senior, Englewood, Ribault and Raines already had trainers under the program.
Images from the inaugural Leadership in Sports Health, Safety and Research Award Luncheon held at EverBank Field.
"Having the NFL Commissioner at our event signifies the importance of safety at each and every level of sport," JSMP executive director Robert Sefcik said. "With the NFL and Jacksonville Jaguars as our partners, we can truly impact our community and student-athletes."
Through the efforts of the Jaguars Foundation, JSMP received an initial $50,000 NFL matching grant last year and will receive a second $50,000 matching grant from the NFL this year. These dollars have been combined with support from local government, business and private partners to get Project 17 started.
"It is exciting to see the collaborative approach the Jacksonville community is taking to enhance safety in high school sports by adding comprehensive athletic training programs with the support of the Jaguars and the NFL," Goodell said. "Through Project 17, the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program has crafted a proactive, evidence-based approach to getting student-athletes the medical supervision they need and deserve, which can serve as a model for other communities in the U.S."
Also attending the luncheon: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, Jaguars President Mark Lamping, Jacksonville University President Tim Cost, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti and Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program Board Chair Michael Aubin.
"Duval County Public Schools is dedicated to keeping children safe, and our commitment to having certified athletic trainers on our sports fields is a must." Vitti said. "Through Project 17, we have heard positive feedback from student-athletes and their parents."
The NFL's work to promote safety through various programs includes USA Heads-Up Football training, NFL/LISC Community Fields, major medical research on concussion and safety issues, and specifically in Jacksonville, the NFL Foundation's grant to Project 17.
"You have to continually enforce the idea that health and safety are Priority One," Goodell said. "We think our responsibility is well beyond football. It's to all sports and to society. We like to believe we're held to a higher standard in the NFL and what we do as a league has an impact on every other sport in some fashion, and I think safety is a very clear example of that.
"I think we've brought great awareness to the concussion issue that has helped all sports. We have made rule changes to our game that also have helped other sports. We have had policy [initiatives] – whether it's concussion recognition or whether it's hydration issues … all of those help every single athlete no matter what sport you play.
"Those are things that are expected of the NFL and we take that seriously."