By John Dudley
Hall of Fame Naples High (Fla.) coach Bill Kramer acknowledges the good intentions attached to discussions about making football safer.
Improved helmet technology, better tackling techniques and heightened awareness of heat-related injuries are all positives in Naples (Fla.) coach Bill Kramer’s eyes.
But Kramer is quick to note that even the best outcome will fall short of some expectations.
“Our country was founded by risk-takers, people who would take life-or-death risks at times,” Kramer says. “I think we went from being calculated risk-takers to being risk-averse.
“We became more litigious. And now there’s a segment of our culture that seems to be bending toward becoming risk-free. We want guarantees that nobody should ever get hurt doing … fill-in-the-blank. That’s not the real world.”
Kramer and his staff at Naples focus on getting their players to understand the importance of doing things the right way.
That means warding off inactivity through mandatory year-round training or participation in another sport and emphasizing safe and responsible practice habits.
It also means full accountability in the classroom, and accepting that Kramer and his staff are more interested in developing responsible adults and successful members of the community than hanging championship banners.
“It’s not about the scoreboard,” Kramer says. “We have to have a moral compass if we’re about building better husbands, better fathers, better sons.”
Having said all that, Kramer insists there is no secret formula behind safely pushing players to the physical and mental limits required to compete at a high level, only common sense grounded in a genuine concern that goes beyond their contributions on the field.
“There is risk inherent to football, to driving a motor vehicle, to riding a bike,” Kramer says. “We do everything we can, and every one of us wants the kids to be safe. But I think football is already safer than it’s ever been.”
Taking a Long View
Like all football coaches, Naples High School’s Bill Kramer is, in part, a product of those he’s met through the game.
In Kramer’s case, that includes Paul Brown, the seventh-grade coach in Yuma, Ariz., who provided Kramer with the father figure he largely lacked as a child.
Here are five factors in Kramer’s commitment to playing and coaching the right way:
- Football is a tool that’s more effective at building character and accountability than any other sport.
- The way coaches and players go about their business is more important than the outcome of games.
- Telling the truth, being authentic, and creating a clear meritocracy is vitally important.
- Academic support isn’t reminding a player to get his homework done. It’s making him accountable for every aspect of his schoolwork.
- A program’s success is measured by what its players have become 10 or 15 years down the road.