soft-shell helmets

Clay Matthews surprises brother’s team with soft-shell helmets

Clay Matthews is known for his big hits and teeth-rattling sacks.

But the Green Bay Packers linebacker never wants them to come at the expense of a serious injury.

Matthews is an advocate for making football as safe as possible, and realizes the NFL sets an example for younger players.

Matthews recently put his words into action by making a personal contribution to the cause.

His older brother, Brian, coaches a team in the Triunfo YMCA Flag Football League, and Clay purchased soft-shell helmets for every player to wear.

Matthews, an Agoura High graduate, surprised the team with his donation last Friday at Chumash Park in Agoura.

“Awareness should begin at an early age, and anything that can be done to give kids a little more protection is something I want to be a part of,” Matthews said. “Brain injures are being studied more and more and they have determined they are much more serious than they thought.”

Concussions and traumatic brain injuries have become a major issue in professional football, and the concern is trickling down through the lower levels.

More than 2,000 former players are suing the NFL alleging they weren’t warned about the long-term risks of concussions.

Recent suicides by former players like San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau have been linked to brain damage.

Even President Obama weighed in on the topic, telling “The New Republic” if he had a son he would have reservations about allowing him to play football.

According to experts, children and teenagers are particularly at risk for concussions because their brains are still developing and their heads are proportionally larger than their bodies and don’t absorb impact as well.

Many youth leagues have instituted new rules to specifically address concussions and enhance education for coaches and parents.

USA Football, an organization backed by the NFL, has introduced the Heads Up program — an online educational program for parents, youth coaches and commissioners that teaches proper tackling techniques.

In March, USA Football plans to bring more than 20 current and former coaches to Indianapolis to help train a group of “master trainers” that will help more than 100 youth leagues across the nation.

Although flag football doesn’t require pads and helmets, Brian Matthews was still concerned about the safety of his players on the field.

Brian is an area sales representative for Gamebreaker Helmets, which is based in Newbury Park and was co-founded by Agoura High graduate Joey LaRocque.

The company’s soft-shelled helmets are molded out of EVA rubber foam, and are used by many high school football teams in passing leagues.

“The helmets have been tested by USC, UCLA and Stanford and they reduce concussions by up to 61 percent,” Brian said.

The helmets cost nearly $100 each, and Clay donated eight to brother’s team, which is appropriately named the Packers.

“It’s not really something that I expected him to do nor did I ask him to do, but he did it out of the kindness of his heart,” Brian said. “He told me one day he wanted to make a donation and buy the whole team helmets. I would have done it a long time ago if I had the ability to afford them. But I don’t have that luxury.”

Clay’s appearance last Friday came during a steady rain, but the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the players and their parents.

The helmets were personalized with the Green Bay logo on one side, Clay’s number on the other side and the player’s number on the front.

After handing out the helmets to each player, Clay stayed to sign autographs and pose for pictures for anyone in attendance.

“The fact that he is standing out here in the rain taking pictures is a testament to him knowing what is really going on,” Brian said. “He knows there is an epidemic with concussions and hopefully this is taking a step toward doing something.”

Drew Nora, 11, whose nickname is “Hollywood” because “I go for the big plays,” was thrilled to meet Clay in person.

“Oh, wow, it’s so exciting. He is one of my favorite players,” said Nora of Westlake Village. “I thought it was really nice he gave us the helmets because they are worth a lot of money.”

Clay would have preferred to keep his donation under wraps, but his brother wouldn’t let him.

“He didn’t want to make a big fuss about it like this, but I knew the kids would go crazy so we had to get him out here,” Brian said. “It’s pretty inspirational, especially for the parents who call me and email me telling me how much it means to their kids.”

Once Clay saw the team’s reaction to his gift, it only reaffirmed his decision about the donation.

“I thought this was a fantastic idea, especially with them being named the Packers,” Clay said. “It gave them something to look forward to and gives them a little protection. Hopefully, it provides them with a little spark.”

Brian would like for the helmets to light a spark beyond just his own team.

“I would hope that other parents will start asking why they don’t have these once they see our kids falling and hitting the ground and not staying down,” he said. “The company is working with so many schools and flag football leagues it doesn’t make sense for this league not to have them.”

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