It's one of those issues so many parents face; if your kid wants to play a contact sport, what age is appropriate? What sport is appropriate? How do you protect them from potential injury and, perhaps more importantly, how likely are they going to end up suffering a potential injury? It's the classic push-pull of parenting, wanting to let your child make their own choices while also needing to protect them. If you've been wondering about signing your little one up for football, you might want to take a moment to think. Because there's a new PSA comparing tackle football to smoking, and it's incredibly alarming.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation released a public service announcement recently about the potential side effect of allowing young children to get involved with tackle football. The video, which was shared to YouTube on Thursday, is titled" Tackle Can Wait," and is part of a campaign led by the daughters of two deceased football players who were diagnosed with CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a "progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms," as per Boston University's CTE Center. The impetus behind this campaign is to keep kids out of tackle football until they are at least 14 years old to lessen the potential damage of concussion, which the PSA notes is "like smoking; the longer you do it, the greater the danger."
In the video, young boys are seen playing tackle football with their parents cheering them on in the background. The scene slowly changes to show those same parents happily lighting cigarettes for their children in an effort to symbolize just how dangerous it truly is for young children to suffer repetitive sports-related head injuries. The PSA quotes a statistic that reads:
Kids who start tackle at age 5 vs. 14 are 10 times more likely to get the brain disease CTE.
This is not the first time researchers have pointed out the severe dangers of starting tackle football at a young age. In 2018 the Annals of Neurology shared data from 246 deceased football players that found players who started before age 12 ended up experiencing symptoms of CTE 13 years earlier than those who waited. Some of the athletes in the study were playing tackle football as early as age five.
The video features a familiar face from football, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, as the referee. Borland himself suffered two concussions while playing in the NFL, and he told NBC News he wants to spread the message that waiting for tackle football is best:
Waiting to play until later is better for the health of young athletes and obviously better for their brains. We don't need to use young kids as guinea pigs. We can retool the game where they can still glean the benefits, enjoy themselves, get exercise and delay tackle football until junior high or high school.
This might be one of those cases where a parent's need to protect their kids vastly outweighs their desire to play a sport. They can wait. Their brains depend on it.