By Ken Reed

As a country, we talk and write about the concussion problem in pro and college football on a regular basis these days. But only rarely do we look at the much bigger issue of youth and high school football.

The vast majority of youth leagues don’t have doctors or trainers on the sidelines. What most of them do have on the sidelines is coaches that know very little about concussions. These coaches don’t know what signs of concussion to look for, and don’t know a thing about back-to-play guidelines.

Youth football really comes down to two questions: 1) Should kids be bashing heads against each other on a football field? And 2) If so, what age is tackle-appropriate?

In a recent column on youth football, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins quotes Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which researches the long-term effects of brain trauma, as asking, “Why are we hitting children in the heads hundreds of times a season without even the protection we give adults?”

Why indeed.

A 2012 study done at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest measured the g-forces of impacts to the heads of 7-year-old tackle football players and found that the impacts in a 7-year-old football game were comparable to those found in an adult football game, some of them at 40gs.

“It looks like a pillow fight,” said Nowinski of a peewee football game, “but the brain thinks it’s in a war.”

Why not put our kids in flag football leagues like Archie Manning did with his son Eli.

“God that’s a great game,” says Manning. “I wish I’d played my whole career in flag football.”

What age is tackle-appropriate is debatable, as is whether or not a tackle-appropriate age even exists. But it seems like — at the least — young children, who’s brains haven’t fully developed yet, shouldn’t be playing tackle football.

There is an alternative, however. As Jenkins writes, if your kid wants to play football, ask yourself a question: “‘How many times should my kid get hit in the head this fall?’ And then hand him a flag.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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