A new report from the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program recommends that kids play flag football rather than tackle until they reach high school. The reason? The risk of injury, specifically of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease found in athletes who regularly take blows to the head, is too high in children under the age of 14-years-old. The report, titled What If Flag Becomes The Standard Way Of Playing Football Until High School?, argues that flag football offers kids the same benefits of learning how to play the sport but without the potential for long-term brain trauma.
The report joins a mountain of evidence suggesting that tackle football is far too dangerous to be played by young kids. The violent nature of the game can affect a child’s development and cause brain damage, memory loss, and depression. Last year, Dr. Bennet Omalu spoke with Fatherly about the risks parents are taking by letting their children play contact sports, comparing it to “child abuse.”
“Every child who plays football or any contact sport is at risk of exposure to brain damage,” Dr. Omalu told Fatherly. “This is an undeniable fact. Simply put, the idea that there is such a thing as a safe blow to the head is completely false. And repeated blows to the head only increase the risk of brain damage.”
For a long time, it seemed that America’s infatuation with football outweighed the safety of children but recent numbers have shown that parents may finally be reading the writing on the wall. Participation in youth football leagues has dropped dramatically across the country over the last few years and while the reason for the decline remains unclear, the increased risk of CTE seems to be a contributing factor.