By Ken Reed
Participation rates for flag football are on the rise, and for good reason. A CDC study reports that tackle football athletes, ages 6 to 14, sustained 15 times as many head impacts as flag football players during practices and games, and 23 times high-magnitude head impacts (i.e., hard blows to the head).
According to the Aspen Institute Project Play’s State of Play 2022 report, 322,000 more children ages 6-12 played flag football than tackle football in 2021. Only a decade earlier, in 2011, 251,000 more young people in the 6 to 14 age range played tackle football than those who played flag football.
Parental fears of brain injuries is a key driver of this growing trend.
There are three major ways to decrease the amount of hits to the head in youth tackle football: 1) Strongly police and penalize ANY blows to the head in games, whether they are perceived to be intentional or not; 2) Eliminate full contact hitting in practices during the season and severely restrict preseason full contact sessions; and 3) All schools should offer flag football as a sport option.
These moves aren’t as radical as they may seem on the surface.
Consider Dartmouth College. Every college and high school football program should adopt the Dartmouth policy of eliminating tackling from all practices. Injuries, including concussions, have dropped significantly for Dartmouth since this policy was implemented.
Instead of tackling teammates, Dartmouth players tackle inanimate objects, not people. They use various dummies, including a robotic moving dummy called the “mobile virtual player” in practice.
Dartmouth has been very competitive on the field since the change. They’ve won three Ivy League championships since implementing this policy. Today, the entire Ivy League has followed Dartmouth’s lead by eliminating full-contact practices.
“[Research on limiting contact in practice] all shows that you not only have fewer subconcussive hits, but also concussions,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “It’s not rocket science.”
In the face of research revealing the dangers of repetitive sub-concussive head impact, and declining participation in high school football, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association has adopted new rules limiting full contact practices. The rules limit full contact drills to 15 minutes per week. Preseason full-contact drills are limited to six hours total.
“I think there are better ways of playing team sports and getting exercise than repeatedly hitting your head,” said Jesse Mez, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University and member of the school’s Alzheimer’s Center and CTE Center. “But given the country’s interest in football and how much everybody loves it, if we are not going to stop playing, then we should reduce the amount of contact as much as we can.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon