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Roger Goodell touts safety for youth football

AKRON, Ohio -- More than 100 youth football players knelt in the grass in front of the white goal post, waiting to strap up their new helmets. First, they got a warning from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"You've still got to play the game by the rules," Goodell said. "You don't use your head as a weapon. You don't use your helmets as a weapon. They're there to protect you."

Goodell took his message about player safety to the youngest level of the game on Saturday, attending a football clinic where players received new helmets through a partnership started by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Goodell told reporters afterward that he expects the sale of the Cleveland Browns to be completed in October; the league is preparing to play the season with replacement officials; and there is no place in the game for bounties.

"Anything that would target or reward players for injuring other players, that's not part of football," Goodell said. "That's not what we're teaching these kids, and it's not what we're going to do in the NFL."

Goodell was in northern Ohio for Saturday's Hall of Fame ceremony. Many of the parents at the youth clinic were interested in hearing about the team's sale this week to Jimmy Haslam for an estimated $1 billion. Haslam is among those donating money to the program, hoping to get 13,000 new helmets to youths in northern Ohio, the California Bay area, the Gulf Coast and the New York City area.

Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon told them he got his first concussion at age 11 in a youth football league. He said injuries can be diminished by having good equipment and playing the game properly.

The Hall of Fame quarterback acknowledged that some of the parents sitting in folding chairs around the perimeter of the field had concerns about their children playing the sport.

"I know there are a lot of nervous parents out there," he said.

The players got their helmets and started drills as part of a clinic teaching various aspects of the game. Janice Wright of Akron sat in a folding chair and made a video of her grandson, 11-year-old Andre Hilton, playing catch in his new, gray helmet and blue-and-white jersey with No. 42.

Wright has read about NFL players suffering long-term damage from concussions and warned her son to play safely.

"He always says, 'I hit 'em with my head,"' Wright said. "I say, 'You don't do that anymore.' I told him they're trying to change that.

"I'm glad he's here (at the clinic). He thinks you've got to knock 'em down, hit 'em hard. I was telling him about the people that had concussions."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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