NFL’s Play 60 sparks youth interest

By Sam Fiske

The glow of the 2015 NFL Draft has come and gone, but the lasting imprint may ultimately reside with Chicago youth through the league’s Play 60 marketing campaign.

Play 60, which promotes an active and healthy lifestyle in the fight against childhood obesity, leveraged the popularity of the draft to draw kids, including those from Willa Cather Elementary School, to participate in football clinics in Grant Park last week.

“This is an amazing experience for the kids,” said Cather’s Dean Arick Lockheart, who campaigned to get 100 of his students invited to the Play 60 events. “It’s more about health and wellness.”

With raised awareness of concussions due to the violent nature of the sport, Play 60, which conducts clinics and football-related games and activities for kids nationwide, attempts a positive re-branding of the sport.

Sensitive to the idea of being a mouthpiece for football, Play 60 organizers attempt to paint its message of overall health, nutrition and fitness to future generations.

“From the Play 60 point of view, we want kids getting active and healthy. No matter if they play kickball, if they play soccer, if they play football, if they go running,” said Cate Helefe, coordinator of fan strategy and marketing for the NFL. “So we want kids to get active and healthy, and if they play football that’s even better.”

Because USA Football ran the Chicago event, there was a definite football focus that included football drills, flag football and tackling child-size dummies. Kids also got the chance to play with NFL draft prospects and Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Andrus Peat, one of the offensive line draft prospects who participated in the Play 60 youth clinic with Cather students, admitted he never participated in youth football or related activities.

“My dad [Todd Peat Sr.] just didn’t want us to play until high school,” said Peat, who was selected 13th overall by the New Orleans Saints. “He actually played in the NFL. With all the injuries and concussions, he just didn’t feel it was necessary for us to play at that young of an age.”

Peat felt upbeat about the concept of Play 60, however.

“I definitely see myself doing a lot more of this. It’s about them just having fun and just kind of being active out here,” Peat said. “I think it’s a really good thing.”

According to Lockheart, Cather Elementary encouraged a series of changes to its students’ eating habits and exercise routines through the Fuel Up to Play 60 plan in order to qualify for the program.

Play 60 partners with select organizations such as the National Dairy Council and recently signed with Dannon, which they use to promote healthy eating.

“There are lot of NFL partners that we don’t partner with [companies like] Pepsi,” Hefele said.

The football climate may look different in the decades to come, but Play 60 will continue to endorse one thing that resonates universally: play.

“I’m not teaching tackling to kids,” Hefele said. ”We’re just getting them out and showing them that it’s fun to be outside and play.”

Photo at top:Chicago Youth Experience Play and Football through NFL Play 60. (Sam Fiske/Medill)