By Ken Reed
There’s only so much we can do to make tackle football safer for the human brain. Eliminating full contact during practices is the best way. Penalizing spearing and leading with the head also helps. But tackle football is intrinsically dangerous.
Enter flag football. It’s the same basic game minus the full contact blocking and tackling. Flags are pulled off the ball-carrier’s belt, instead of tackling, to end a play.
Due primarily to the dangers of brain trauma from tackle football, and the growth of females playing thegame, flag football has seen significant growth in recent years.
“There’s catching passes, backpedaling, running routes,” says former NFL safety Izell Reese. “You’ve taken the tackle out of the equation, and it’s opened up more doors of continuous play.” Reese is the founder of RCX Sports, which oversees NFL Flag.
Without all the expensive equipment needed to play tackle football, flag football becomes a more viable option for families in lower economic areas.
The growing popularity of flag football is tied to an increasing awareness and understanding of the dangers of tackle football. Brain injuries, and the potential for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), have caused many parents to reconsider whether or not to allow their youngsters to play tackle football.
Since 2016, participation in youth football for children ages 6 through 12 has decreased by 29%. High school football participation has dropped 12.2% since 2008.
‘With flag, it’s 100 miles per hour,” says Troy Vincent, a former NFL All-Pro cornerback.
“It’s all fun; it’s strategic; it’s fast; it’s quick. It’s a transferable sport. If you grew up with soccer, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, and you’ve developed any type of hand-eye coordination, [flag football]’s a smooth transition.”
Flag football is growing quickly on college campuses and in youth leagues in the United States. In addition, flag football is growing internationally. National team participation in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Flag Football Championships grew by 61% in the men’s competition and 73% in the women’s competition from 2017 to 2021.
As awareness of the dangers of tackle football to the human brain continues to grow, one can certainly expect the growth of flag football to increase as well.
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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