Last week the Aspen Institute released a 27-page report that concludes children shouldn’t play tackle football until high school, at the earliest. The non-profit, non-partisan think tank recommends young athletes play flag football until the age of 14.

“Medical scientists believe children may be particularly vulnerable to brain injury in collision sports like football — in part because their brains are physically immature and have still-developing neural circuitry, and in part because they have relatively large heads and relatively weak neck and shoulder muscles when compared to adults, increasing the likelihood of a brain-jarring “bobblehead effect” during impacts,” the report explains. It spends the next 5 pages on the science.

Pop Warner had no comment for the Wall Street Journal (writing on the topic). They might be too busy fighting lawsuits.

Specifically we’re reminded of a wrongful death case currently making its way through Federal Court in California, brought by two grieving moms. They contend that their sons died as a direct result of brain damage caused when they played youth football.

Pop Warner insists it should be held blameless because football is an inherently dangerous game and players assume the risk by playing. The moms say Pop Warner lies about its commitment to safety.

According to Law360, Federal Judge Philip Gutierrez agreed, and noted the “moms are arguing that Pop Warner ‘misrepresented that safety was its top priority,’ bragging that it had ‘coaches trained in head injuries, equipment that afforded the best protection, and rules and procedures designed to protect children from injury—all with the knowledge that none of this was true.’”

Both dead kids played youth football for years. Their autopsied brains reportedly showed signs of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) that lawyers insist caused one to commit suicide and the other to engage in reckless behavior that resulted in a fatal motorcycle crash.

One of the moms - Kimberly Archie - says she is motivated to protect other people’s kids.

“We need to arm parents with the truth so they can make real decisions,” she said. “Parents are being lied to and they need to know the truth. If a mom or even a dad knows that their son is being exposed to brain damage — and at least they’re going to diminish their God-given mental capacity and at worst CTE — why would a parent sign their kid up for that? It makes no sense.”

Coupled with emerging science, the case has the potential to cripple Pop Warner. And it’s not the only bad news for youth football fans.

Last year a Boston University study said athletes who start playing football before age 12 suffered more “behavioral and cognitive” problems in life than peers who started playing after age 12.

“The brain is going through this incredible time of growth between the years of 10 and 12, and if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life,” Robert Stern, one of the authors of the study, said.

That study followed another from B.U., which “found CTE in 99 percent of brains obtained from National Football League (NFL) players, as well at 91 percent of college football players and 21 percent of high school football players.”

At the very least we know football can hurt kids in ways we’re only beginning to understand. Youth football is on the decline, as a result, and based on recent reporting of previously hidden injuries, it’s easy to understand why. Fewer and fewer families are making the choice to risk their kids’ long-term physical and emotional health for the love of youth and high school sports.

As a Montpelier High School coach once said, “It’s really important to keep your head safe, because this is just high-school sports, and you got a whole life ahead of you, and you don’t want to throw it away before you are even out of your teenage years.”

We think that’s a good comment. And while we certainly agree that the decision to play tackle football is best left up to individual families, we wouldn’t ever allow our own kids to take the risk.


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