By Ken Reed

The Super Bowl game this weekend between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, will be played by adults. Adults who, at this point in time, are surely aware of the dangers the game represents to their brains and long-term health.

While it’s important to keep educating college and professional football players with the latest findings from research studies on the effects of repetitive blows to the brain, as a nation, our focus needs to be on the millions of children and teenagers in this country that are playing the game before the age of legal consent, and who very likely aren’t fully aware of the dangers of playing football.

Doctors and scientists agree that playing football before the age of 14 is especially dangerous because brains are still developing. (Note: Many doctors and researchers believe the brain continues to develop into one’s early 20’s) A recent Boston University study of 214 former football players found that playing tackle football before the age of 12 resulted in an increased risk of depression and behavioral problems. (This is a particular problem in schools as playing football at a young age also increased problems with executive function in the brain, which impacts people’s ability to pay attention and multitask, among other things.)

It’s important to note that brain damage — even without suffering a concussion — can have both short-and-long-term consequences.

“If you injure a brain at that early age, it can have later life potential consequences,” according to Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder of the CTE Center at Boston University and one of the country’s leading researchers on brain trauma.

Chris Borland had a stand-out rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. He then did some extensive research on brain trauma and concussions and decided to retire, not wanting to endanger his future health. He now works educating parents and children about the risks of brain trauma in football.

“Our primary objective is to get children through childhoods without any cognitive deficits. … Compromising the organ that would constitute that development is silly,” says Borland.

Legislators in Louisiana and New York have introduced legislation that would ban football for pre-teens.

“I firmly believe that when we see evidence of the danger to children, we need to act on that,” said Michael Benedetto, a New York state assemblyman. “There are laws that you need to use a car seat, wear a bicycle helmet. It’s the same principle.”

The pile of research studies on the dangers of tackle football for the human brain is getting higher and higher as we prepare for another Super Bowl.

As Benedetto suggests, apart from watching the Big Game this Sunday, collectively, we need to learn as much as we can about the dangers of tackle football for youth and high school players and then act on that knowledge.

It’s a topic that we can’t continue to avoid simply because we love the game.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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