By Ken Reed

In a recent Washington Post commentary, Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurology and neurosurgery and co-founder of the CTE Center at the Boston University School of Medicine, and Mark Hyman, professor of sports management at George Washington University, suggested the following Surgeon General’s Warning be placed on all youth football helmets and youth tackle football registration forms:

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play tackle football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.

It’s not a bad idea. When parents sign up their children for football, they are placing them in an activity that has been shown in numerous studies to be very dangerous for the human brain. Adults taking on the neurological risks of football is one thing, but children are being put in harm’s way before they reach the age of legal consent.

Brain trauma, cognitive problems, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) aren’t just NFL issues. The Boston University CTE Center has published three studies in the last few years all pointing to the same conclusion:

“Adults who played tackle football as children were more likely to deal with emotional and cognitive challenges in later life.”

Most adults in America are now aware of the link between concussions and CTE. But many, if not most, are unaware of the link between repetitive subconcussive blows to the head and a variety of cognitive, behavioral and neurological conditions and diseases, including CTE. In other words, you don’t need to have had multiple concussions to be at risk. CTE has been found in the brains of former college and high school football players, not just NFL players.

While the Boston University CTE Center has discovered CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players, the Center has also found CTE in the brains of 48 of 53 former college players. Those college players didn’t go on to play football in the NFL. Moreover, 21% of the 14 brains of former high school football players studied at the Center had evidence of CTE. And those players never played football beyond high school.

Football, not baseball, is the true national pastime when it comes to sports in America. In fact, football is probably better described as our national obsession.

That said, there’s currently enough evidence on the table showing football is dangerous to the human brain — especially the brains of children whose brains are still developing — to have a serious national discussion about whether or not our young people should continue to participate in youth and high school football in this country.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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