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By Ken Reed

The question of whether or not our young people should be playing football continues to gain attention.

Earlier this week, Good Morning America featured a segment about a Dover, New Hampshire school board member — and retired medical doctor — Dr. Paul Butler, who’s calling for the banning of high school football.

“The literature is clear. This is a dangerous game for children to be playing,” says Butler. “A game that uses the head as a battering ram is not a smart game to allow a youngster to play.”

The Washington Post ran a major feature article this week on safety concerns in youth football. The focus was on parents struggling with the pros and cons of youth football participation due to the growing awareness of concussion issues in the game. The article also highlighted data showing a drop in youth football participation in some youth leagues.

In the article, Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, says he would like to see tackle football banned for athletes under the age of 14. In addition, he calls for no heading in soccer and no full-body checking in ice hockey at the same age.

Cantu believes a young person’s brain is too vulnerable and no modernized helmet or altered playing rules can fully prevent concussions.

“The youth brain housed in a disproportionately big head on a very weak neck, it’s a bobblehead doll-effect that increases the injury,” says Cantu, author of the new book, Concussions and Our Kids.

Despite the growing mound of research showing that playing football is dangerous for the human brain, the football culture in this country is strongly ingrained.

A new survey by the youth sports organization i9 Sports revealed that despite increasing awareness about the dangers of concussions in football, nine out of 10 fathers who played football at the high school level or higher and suffered, or believe they suffered, a concussion playing football, still want their kids to play football.

Culture change experts say it takes seven years to change a culture. When it comes to youth and high school football in this country it might take longer.

The popularity of football in this country is certainly easy to understand. It can be an entertaining game to watch. But given what we know about brain trauma in football, the i9 survey results are sad. We’re not talking about ACL injuries. We’re talking about the brain, the seat of who we are as human beings.

(See Ken Reed’s take on the issue in a Chicago Tribune op-ed column)

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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