If you’ve heard of being “punch drunk,” then you’ve heard of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that was once thought only to affect boxers. Now, doctors are discovering the condition is not only boxers but also in professional wrestlers and football players. Bennet Omalu discovered first CTE in 2002 during an autopsy following Mike Webster’s death. Webster played in the National Football League (NFL) for 16 seasons.
Following his retirement in 1990, Webster began suffering from amnesia, depression, and dementia. CTE cannot be diagnosed while a person is living, but a joint study performed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University showed that of the brains of 91 former NFL players, 87 tested positive for severe trauma, a rate of 97%. Of those, 40% were linemen who do not regularly sustain the kind of hard tackles once thought to cause this kind of trauma.
Is Football Dangerous To Children?
This brings up a question about children who play tackle football, a sport in which 5.22 million children aged six years and up participated in 2017. “Should children play tackle football?” is a question that many experts are beginning to ask, according to attorneys Newsome and Melton.
As it turns out, there are arguments both for and against the practice of allowing children to play tackle football. Some say that younger children should be restricted to tag football or flag football until they are older – around 12 to 14. However, some argue that allowing children to play tackle football at an earlier age can prevent injuries when they get older since they are better prepared to take tackles.
Pros And Cons
One of the arguments for allowing younger children to play tackle football comes from an American Academy of Pediatrics paper. According to the paper, the organization posits that learning proper tackling techniques at a younger age can help to prevent injuries later when players are older, stronger, and faster.
On the other side, even celebrated NFL professionals such as Brett Favre recommend against allowing younger children to play tackle football. Brett Favre, who played in a record 321 games over a 20-year career, has been showing troubling signs that he may have CTE. While Favre does not regret playing, he has stated that if he had a son, he would try to dissuade him from playing football due to the number of concussions sustained throughout his youth and professional career.
Another study showed that the earlier a child began playing tackle football, the earlier the symptoms of CTE appeared. The study examined the brains of 246 brains of former football players, both amateur and professional. Two hundred eleven of the brains were found to have CTE. Further, the study discovered that children who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 started experiencing symptoms of CTE 13 years earlier than those who started playing after the age of 12.
Playing a sport can teach a child many things – teamwork, dependability, as well as improving fitness and coordination. However, weighing the benefits versus the risks of allowing a child to play tackle football is something to consider.