It’s that glorious time of year- the leaves are changing colors, the air is crisp and cool, and pumpkin spice is everywhere.
To most of America, fall means something far more exciting than just leaves & pumpkins- it’s the arrival of football season: “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL!!??”
Football passion starts young, too. We’re not just talking about die-hard adult fans, here; young kids can’t wait to strap on their pads & run out onto the gridiron, too. And their parents love to watch, too!
But maybe the little dudes should be waiting a few more years before jumping into tackle football- if at all.
I know, I know- there are parents that are already up-in-arms at the mere suggestion that young kids shouldn’t play tackle football. And on the other side of the fence, there are those that want it banned. It’s a sticky situation…
…and it’s about to get stickier.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation just released a controversial PSA video clip that compares the long-term dangers of youth football to smoking in terms of the negative impact on the human body.
And oh boy- it’s a doozy!!
The clip was created by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, to herald their “Tackle Can Wait” campaign.
It premiered on YouTube last Thursday, and has already ignited a spark of outrage among those who object to it’s intensely graphic message.
Ok… I’ll admit that as someone who lost her father to lung cancer from smoking, it was immediately unnerving to see little boy athlete’s puffing away on cigs while in their team huddle.
Even more unnerving: watching a mother congratulate her son’s great play as she places a cigarette between his lips, lighting it for him.
As the players tussle on the field, a child’s voice states:
Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger.
As though his sweet little-boy voice isn’t enough of a heart-punch, the clip shifts to pure, cold statistical fact:
Yikes. Pretty ominous, no??
But if you’ve ever heard about CTE, known formally as chronic traumatic encephalopathy- then you know there is good reason to be concerned.
CTE is a neurodegenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated concussions over time. As the brain is forcibly knocked against the skull, bruising and damage are inevitable (as in contact sports, particularly football).
The disease causes abnormal proteins to build up, which can lead to a variety of concerning symptoms: impaired judgement, memory loss, aggression, depression, anxiety, and occasional even suicidal behavior.
The effects of CTE are obviously alarming. But what’s even more alarming is that the vast majority of professional NFL players suffer from some form of CTE.
Extensive research was done in 2017 by on the brains of deceased NFL athletes that were donated for the study cited in the Journal Of American Medical Association:
99% of the NFL brains studied were found to have evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
That’s pretty sobering. 99% of the players had evidence of traumatic brain injury from playing football over time.
So if your child opts to play tackle football, his odds of not sustaining some form of CTE, if he plays throughout college & perhaps the pros: a tiny 1% chance.
And a 99% chance he’s likely to experience this sort of brain injury.
And medical professionals have weighed in on the issue as well, of course. Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, makes it clear that based on her own research:
There’s no question that there’s a problem in football.
That people who play football are at risk for this disease.
Ok, granted. But why the comparison of smoking to playing tackle football? It’s pretty shocking… but that was precisely the intent as far as the Concussion Legacy Foundation was concerned.
The foundation’s CEO, Chris Nowinski deliberately wanted to make the message clear, stating that:
the smoking comparison is “intentionally shocking,” meant to make parents consider their children’s health in a different way.
There’s even more controversy over whether their should be an age restriction on playing tackle football. The Concussion Legacy Foundation urges parents to wait until their child is at least 14 to play (hence the “Tackle Can Wait” slogan), if they play at all.
The Legacy’s Foundation’s point in comparing smoking to playing tackle football: why expose anyone’s developing young body to such a danger that will accumulate and worsen over time?
But… there’s always two sides to a story, so put down your pitchforks, football fans.
Some medical professionals disagree with the foundation’s request for parents to wait until their kids are 14 to play tackle ball, citing that the physical risk of injury increases at an older age due to larger opponents, rougher tackles, and harder hits.
Even Dr. Julian Bailes, the director of neurosurgery and co-director of NorthShore University (as well as a medical advisor for local Pop Warner football programs) thinks that comparing smoking and tackle football is a bit, well, “misleading and inaccurate”.
There are nearly half a million people in the US who die from illnesses related to tobacco use, and there are no deaths in youth football.
The PSA clip is certainly intense, and of course bound to be both polarizing and controversial.
Even the experts themselves can’t seem to agree on the “right” age for boys to engage in tackle football, or if there is a “safer” age for them to play without lasting physical repercussions.
But here’s the bottom line: You’re the parent. YOU get to decide. Period!
You need to take in the information, and make the decision that you feel is best for YOUR child. There will always be experts dispensing advice on what you must or must not do in order to keep your child well.
Stay informed. If your child does play tackle football, read up on CTE. Consider the long-term effects, and decide what’s best for you and your child. (Maybe let him play football, but skip the lighting-him-a-cig-on-the-bench part).