There is such an overwhelming link between severe brain damage and head trauma in football that the sport has been deemed too dangerous even for adults. Notably, Dr. Bennett Omalu, the doctor who uncovered the issue, says that data is so conclusive that children should not be allowed to play football. Despite all this, the majority of Americans continue to believe that the sport is a safe pastime. In a recent national sample of 1,000 adults, nearly six in 10 said they believe tackle football is safe for high schoolers as young as 14 years old.
The poll, conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, indicates a disturbing acceptance of children continuing to play tackle football while also clearly understanding that doing so can cause long-term brain damage. Fifty-seven percent of those polled believe football is safe for high school students, and 42 percent agreed it’s appropriate for children to begin playing the sport younger than age 14. This is all the more shocking considering 80 percent of those polled recognize that brain trauma is a serious health issue and that 83 percent recognize that the data on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease caused by repeat head trauma, is certainly or probably a “settled science.”
It’s worth noting that the data on CTE really is a settled science. This past July, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that in a neuropathological study of the brains of 111 former-NFL players, 110 showed signs of CTE. The neurodegenerative disease causes cognitive impairment later in life, symptoms of which can include impulsivity, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and violent tendencies. Controversial and ongoing research has also suggested that CTE can play a role in domestic violence. The evidence is conclusive that football is especially unsafe for children, and Dr. Omalu insists that “letting your child play a contact sport is knowingly putting their long-term health at risk.”
The Post-UMass Lowell poll also found that this dismiss of concern for teenagers playing football is more prominent among certain demographic groups over others, some of which tend to statistically exhibit more traditional, sometimes rigid views on masculinity. Out of the sample, about half of Hispanics and African Americans feel more comfortable introducing football before high school than whites, 38 percent of which feel the same. Across the board, men and those without a college education are more likely to agree.
Another demographic, the report notes, that prominently supports playing football before reaching high school? Adults who’ve already sustained a sports concussion. So, take that as you will. As the evidence only increases, adults – particularly parents – need to face the reality of football and brain trauma.