Wednesday, February 11, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox 

In my last post on the issue of head injuries in football (Changing the Culture of Football), I wrote about a class-action lawsuit filed by parents of an Illinois high school football player whose son still suffers from frequent migraines and memory loss after multiple concussions received while playing football. The suit cites the State of Illinois for deficient concussion protocols. In asking the Illinois State High School Association to strengthen rules regarding head injuries, it also strives to warn parents about letting their children play football at a young age. 

Noting that similar lawsuits targeting high school associations are pending, I predicted that “It’s probably just a matter of time before lawsuits emerge for youth leagues.” There now appears some evidence to support this possibility.

According to a study recently published in Neurology, NFL veterans who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have cognitive difficulties after their careers.

Researchers tested 42 former players on their short-term memory, mental flexibility and problem-solving skills and found those who took up the sport before they were 12-years old functioned about 20% worse than those who didn’t. Both groups scored below average on many of the tests.

There appears a scientific explanation for this significant finding. A known period of critical brain development occurs around puberty. A brain is injured during that time may have both-short term and long-term consequences. According to Robert Stern of the Boston University School of Medicine, “this study supports the idea that we need to protect the brains of our children while they’re going through this dramatic development period.”

The point to once again stress is that there is growing evidence that playing football at a young age carries serious risks that organized leagues at all levels are not adequately managing. Parents should carefully weigh the evidence and fully understand the risks before allowing their children to play youth football.

Before giving permission, they should make sure coaches teach players how to tackle without leading with their heads and league officials have strict head injury protocols in place. The best strategy is probably to not allow your child to play until they reach high school age.

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