By Ken Reed

“I beg of you, all parents to please don’t let your children play football until high school,” says former Miami Dolphins star linebacker Nick Buoniconti.

“I made the mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old. Now, CTE has taken my life away.”

Buoniconti has been diagnosed with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease. (At this point, CTE can only be confirmed via autopsy.) He has pledged to donate his brain to research.

Last week, several former NFL players came together with Boston University researchers to recommend that kids don’t play tackle football until their high school years because of the risk of brain damage in young, still-developing, brains.

The players, including former Oakland Raiders great Phil Villapiano, and former New York Giants All-Pro Harry Carson, teamed with Boston University researchers Dr. Robert Cantu and Dr. Lee Goldstein to talk about the risks of playing football at a young age. They referenced studies that show CTE can start early in life without any signs of concussion.

Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon who has long studied football and brain injuries, says high school football players are still at risk. He says the concern over repeated hits to the head is actually magnified in high school.

“The real exposure to larger players, higher velocity hits and hundreds of hits starts in high school,” said Bailes.

Meanwhile, Goldstein emphasized that repetitive sub-concussive hits need to be the focus, not concussions.

“We will never prevent CTE by focusing on concussions. Any meaningful prevention campaign has to focus on preventing all hits to the head, including sub-concussive impacts,” said Goldstein.

As more and more research studies come out on brain trauma and its effects, it’s getting harder and harder to justify children and teenagers playing football at any age.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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