We don’t pretend to be experts in anything, let alone when it comes to the topics of football, brain injuries, and proper parenting.
However, just as Bob Dylan wrote, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” so too, one need not be an expert in any of those areas of discussion to realize that researchers have made a clear case for prohibiting boys under the age of 12 from playing tackle football.
An article a few weeks ago in the New York Times, under the headline below, states in pertinent part as follows:
Playing Tackle Football Before 12 Is Tied to Brain Problems Later
“The Boston University researchers found that players…who participated in youth football before the age of 12 had a twofold ‘risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy and executive function’ and a threefold risk of ‘clinically elevated depression scores.’
“Last year, doctors at Wake Forest School of Medicine used advanced magnetic resonance imaging technology to find that boys between the ages of 8 and 13 who played just one season of tackle football had diminished brain function in parts of their brains.”
We acknowledge that all sports, contact and otherwise, involve some degree of risk of injury to one’s head. However, many youth athletic organizations have sought to limit the extent of contact, ranging from no-check policies in youth hockey to a ban on heading the ball for youth soccer players, in order to protect the brains of children.
Youth football seems to be the one outlier, with boys as young as eight years old still being subjected to the game with all-out tackling.
Some will argue that helmets are being made safer and that children are being taught proper tackling techniques that will prevent them from being injured. However, as to the former, while the new generation of helmets may be better, they still are nowhere near being brain injury-proof. As for the latter, teaching proper techniques to youngsters does not mean that they will be successful at implementing them.
Moreover, there are two other pieces of information we would like to share. The first is that although there is a primary focus on the big hits that cause concussions, researchers theorize that the hundreds of smaller hits absorbed by boys from the time they start playing youth football through high school and into college take a cumulative toll on their brains.
The second is that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith says he received his numerous concussions from his head slamming into the ground after being tackled — and there is no proper technique to prevent that from happening (a problem that is made worse by the hard surfaces of artificial turf fields) at any level of the game.
In view of all of the evidence that is piling up, we believe that within a few years, the NFL will urge all youth football programs to eschew tackle football in favor of flag football, if for no other reason than that the NFL does not want players coming into their ranks who have been brain-damaged from their youth, as apparently was the case with Aaron Hernandez.
In the meantime, until parents of youth football players and the NFL acknowledge reality and make the switch to flag football, local communities can take action forthwith by not allowing youth tackle football programs to use their fields and facilities. The clear and present danger posed by tackle football to our children has to stop immediately — and the fields and facilities paid for by the taxpayers should not be used for what amounts to an insidious form of child abuse.