Tackle foot­ball is not for chil­dren

The Progress-Index Weekend - - OPINION - —The Wash­ing­ton Post

They know the risks." That's the ar­gu­ment that is in­evitably trot­ted out in any dis­cus­sion about the dan­gers of play­ing foot­ball and the game's link­age to brain dam­age. Play­ers, so this line of think­ing goes, are will­ing to ac­cept the risks in re­turn for the game's ben­e­fits. That rea­son­ing, while per­haps ac­cept­able for adults, flies out the win­dow when it comes to chil­dren. Chil­dren aren't al­lowed to ac­cept the risks of smok­ing cig­a­rettes or drink­ing al­co­hol, so it de­fies logic to let them ac­cept the dan­gers that foot­ball may present to their de­vel­op­ing brains.

A pic­ture of th­ese dan­gers emerged from a long-term study pub­lished last week by Boston Uni­ver­sity re­searchers who ex­am­ined through phone in­ter­views and on­line sur­veys a sam­ple of 214 for­mer high school, col­lege and pro­fes­sional foot­ball play­ers. Those who started play­ing con­tact foot­ball be­fore the age of 12 suf­fered more be­hav­ioral, cog­ni­tive and emo­tional prob­lems than those who started play­ing af­ter they turned 12. Ex­po­sure to repet­i­tive head im­pacts may dou­ble the chances of de­vel­op­ing be­hav­ioral prob­lems and triple the risk of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­pres­sion.

"The brain is go­ing through this in­cred­i­ble time of growth be­tween the years of 10 and 12, and if you sub­ject that de­vel­op­ing brain to repet­i­tive head im­pacts, it may cause prob­lems later in life," said Robert Stern, one of the au­thors of the study from the uni­ver­sity's Chronic Trau­matic En­cephalopa­thy Cen­ter. The study made no pol­icy or rule-change rec­om­men­da­tions for youth tackle foot­ball, cit­ing the need for fur­ther study. But Stern told the Boston Globe, "I'm at a point where I feel com­fort­able say­ing that, based on logic and com­mon sense and the grow­ing to­tal­ity of the re­search, I don't think kids should be play­ing tackle foot­ball."

Ap­par­ently, he is not alone. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in youth tackle foot­ball has fallen off, and, as the New York Times re­ported, schools across the coun­try have ended pro­grams "be­cause of safety con­cerns," with par­ents switch­ing their chil­dren to other sports. Youth foot­ball leagues have in­sti­tuted prac­tice and rules changes in a bid to make the game safer, but this re­port - along with the Boston Uni­ver­sity cen­ter's ear­lier study that found 110 out of 111 brains of de­ceased NFL play­ers had de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease - should give pause to any par­ent who thinks play­ing foot­ball would be in their child's best in­ter­est. Yes, there is some risk in most sports, but the emerg­ing ev­i­dence seems to put foot­ball in a cat­e­gory of its own.

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