Reimer: Call me King of Snowflakes, but Massachusetts youth tackle football ban must become law

Alex Reimer
February 27, 2019 - 1:06 pm

The science shows it is destructive for young kids to play tackle football. So if we care about the children as much as we say, then it must be banned. Simple as that. 

Massachusetts lawmakers proposed legislation this week that would ban tackle football through seventh grade. Under the proposal, kids would still be able to play flag or touch football, meaning they could develop their skills without destroying their brains. It sounds like a win-win.

But the Pigskin Industrial Complex continues to fight against science, just like climate change deniers. No wonder there is seemingly lots of crossover between the two camps. 

In 2017, Boston University published a landmark study that found there is a “robust relationship between (playing tackle football before age 12) and long-term clinical dysfunction.” Those who participate in tackle football before turning 12 double their chances of developing behavior problems and triple their risk of experiencing depression. 

Last year, BU also found that kids who take part in tackle football before age 12 are faced with neurological problems roughly 13 years earlier than those who play at 12 or older. 

The evidence is indisputable. Even the NFL now publicly recognizes the link between football and brain trauma. 

So if you don’t want to read boring academic studies, try this exercise: everyone agrees those who play football are more likely to suffer from cognitive dysfunction than the general population. Kids can't drive until they're 16 and are barred from buying harmful substances that can kill them, such as nicotine and alcohol. Why not add tackle football to the list? 

Ex-Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who’s one of hundreds of retired players suing the NFL for allegedly suffering brain injuries on the gridiron, argued on "Mut & Callahan" Wednesday that every player doesn’t get CTE, so it’s fine to allow your 11 year old to slam his head into other kids. Sure, they may be inflicted with brain damage down the line, but they might not! The risk is part of the fun. 

While not every player suffers from CTE, obviously, researchers estimate the prevalence of the disease around NFL players is 9.6 percent. That’s too much of a chance for me. 

As Chris Nowinski once told me, players increase their chances of getting CTE the longer they play. Since only five percent of high schoolers wind up paying in college, and a much smaller percentage ever make it to the pros, few players would suffer from the debilitating illness if youth tackle football were outlawed. “Four years of exposure is not going to be enough to start CTE in most people,” he said.

As far as football’s spirit and camaraderie is concerned, you can still get that from playing flag. In my flag football league, we have all sorts of cool cheers and pageantry. But instead of nursing our heads at the end of games, we’re nursing mimosas. 

It’s what we should want for all of our kids, substituting out the mimosas for plain OJ, of course. 


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