By Ken Reed

Two of the best sports reformers and activist journalists we have in this country are Dave Zirin and Patrick Hruby.

Recently, the two of them sat down together as part of an Edge of Sports podcast to talk about an important issue in this country: whether or not children and teenagers should be playing tackle football in general, and in publicly-financed schools in particular.

It was an interesting and enlightening discussion. Both Zirin and Hruby talked about what a strong cultural force football is in the United States. They also acknowledged the positives of the sport. But for the most part, their discussion centered around the medical and ethical issues surrounding youth and high school football. The discussion was spurred by Hruby’s well-researched article on the subject.

Here’s one compelling exchange between the two:

[Zirin] “Messing with your brain in that period (14-18-years-old), we’re talking about messing with people’s entire futures. That’s undeniable.”

[Hruby] I agree, and that’s one of the things that scares some of the researchers I talk to. Which is, that window (14-18) you’re talking about. You know, the brain doesn’t fully stop developing until your mid-20’s. And the stuff that’s developing in high school is your sense of judgment, your frontal lobe and your impulse control … And so those researchers are very concerned that the high schooler’s brain might actually be more vulnerable to the kinds of insults it’s getting in football. And that factors not only medically, but ethically, into the case against this (youth and high school football).”

Zirin and Hruby end their discussion by talking about how cultural attitudes towards football might eventually change. They talked about change coming about more effectively from a bottom-up approach (individual families, local school boards and administrators, etc.) vs. a forced top-down approach (ban on youth and high school football).

Finally, Hruby mentioned that a scientific breakthrough could speed things up.

“The one thing that would totally change it a lot faster would be if they come up with a test for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in a living brain. The first person that studies a high school team and they find like 10% or 5% (of players with CTE) … America would freak out.”

Freak out indeed.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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