Many professional football players began their quest to reach the National Football League (NFL) when they were kids. They practiced and played hard. No one thought about concussions or the damage that might be happening to the athletes’ young brains.
Now, a group of former NFL players including such greats as Hall of Famers Harry Carson of the New York Giants and Nick Buoniconti of the Miami Dolphins are calling for an end to tackle football for kids under 14 years old.
The group is instead endorsing a program called "Flag Football Under 14," launched by the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The program aims to educate parents and young players about chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Sometimes called CTE, it is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head, and has been detected in more than 85 percent of tackle football players studied over the past 10 years, according to the foundation.
The foundation hopes to help parents make better decisions about their children’s health when playing contact sports. For some people, this new approach to football sounds like a softening of young athletes; they aren’t quite ready to accept that tackle football is anything to worry about. The former NFL greats hope parents will listen with an open mind.
"This education program for parents is inspired by the last decade of research on CTE, which has revealed that the best way to prevent CTE in football players is to delay enrolling in tackle football until 14," Dr. Robert Cantu, the foundation's medical director, said in a news release from the organization.
"We cannot overstate the absurdity of allowing 7-year-olds to receive 500 head impacts a season just because they happen to be getting exercise at the time," added Chris Nowinski, the foundation's chief executive officer who played football at Harvard University.
The football veterans want parents and kids to know that playing flag football when they are young, will not impact their chances of making it to the NFL in the future.
Many NFL greats didn't start playing tackle football until they were 14 years old, including Jim Brown, Tom Brady, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
"To parents who want their children to experience football, they should not play tackle football until 14," Carson said. "I did not play tackle football until high school, and I will not allow my grandson to play until 14, as I believe it is not an appropriate sport for young children."
Buoniconti, a Dolphins linebacker, now suffers from dementia and has been diagnosed with probable CTE.
"I made a mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old," Buoniconti said in the news release. "Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward."
The consequences of CTE are not only personally devastating to a player and his family and friends, but can be fatal as well.
Former Pro Bowl Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano added, "I watched my teammate Ken Stabler [a quarterback elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame in 2016] deteriorate and die from CTE. At some point those of us who have had success in this game must speak up to protect both football players and the future of the game, and supporting Flag Football Under 14 is our best way to do that."
Story source: Mary Elizabeth Dallas, https://consumer.healthday.com/fitness-information-14/football-health-news-250/former-nfl-pros-push-for-end-to-kids-tackle-football-730342.html