By Ken Reed

Thats a Good First Step

In the first installment of their “Things We’d Change in Sports” series, USA Today writer Tom Schad presents the case for banning tackle football for children under 14.

That certainly makes sense. There is growing evidence that repetitive brain trauma — even if it doesn’t result in concussions — in young people whose brains are still developing can have long-lasting negative effects.

“I take classes in child abuse recognition every few years in order to maintain my license to practice as a physician,” says Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist whose discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion.”

“The fundamental definition of child abuse is the intentional exposure of a child to the risk of injury. That injury does not have to occur.

“We wouldn’t give a child a cigarette to smoke because a cigarette is potentially harmful. But we would put a helmet on the head of a child and send him out on a field to play a game whereby he sustains repeated blows to his head, to suffer sub-concussions and concussions. Which is more dangerous: a cigarette or a concussion of the brain? A concussion of the brain, of course. If that is not the definition of child abuse, what is it?

“When people hear the statement ‘Omalu says playing football is child abuse,’ they become emotional. But when you remove the emotionality, it’s a very objective statement. I’ve not met any parent who disagrees. Some parents will say, ‘Don’t put it like that; that makes me feel bad.’

“We have elevated sports to the level of a religion. We’re in denial of the truth.”

While there is still plenty of resistance to eliminating youth tackle football today, Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation believes it’s just a matter of time before it happens.

“I would say based on what I know today, that it’s guaranteed to happen,” says Nowinski. “And within five years.”

The elimination of high school football will inevitably follow. Placing young people in tackle football before they reach the legal age of consent will no longer be legally or ethically defensible.

Doctors and medical researchers say the brain is still developing until at least the age of 18. Moreover, insurance companies will eventually refuse to cover interscholastic football, meaning school districts won’t be able to take the financial risk of offering the game to students.

If adults (18+) want to play tackle football, that is their right and I have no problem with it. That said, ethically, I think we need to do all we can to inform them of the risks involved. But ultimately it’s their choice.

Placing children younger than 18 on a field to play tackle football before they reach the age of consent is another thing entirely.

—Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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