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Civil Discourse Op-Ed: Children in Tackle Football

The Civil Discourse program, facilitated by Communications professor Mark Urista, takes on their latest hot-button issue: Should children play tackle football? With every football season, both college and national, we see countless injuries, many that can change the trajectory of a player’s career and life. But is football more dangerous than other sports? Are parents protecting their children by keeping them out of tackle football or are they teaching them to be afraid of their surroundings? The Civil Discourse looks at every angle of this very debatable issue.

Children Should Play Tackle Football

Authors: Damoni Wright, Eagle Hunt, Eliana Ortega, Jacob Pacheco and The Civil Discourse Program

Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest has renewed discussion about the danger of playing football.  A recent survey shows that the public is split by almost 50/50 on whether kids should play tackle football.  After weighing the risks and benefits, it’s clear that stopping kids from playing tackle football will cause more harm than good. 

It’s important to recognize that injuries can occur when playing tackle football.  Nearly 215,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries in 2009. On the surface, it’s easy to come to the conclusion reached by nearly half the nation that these numbers demonstrate that tackle football is dangerous and should be avoided. But when compared to other sports, these numbers are far from abnormal. The same source finds that over 200,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries. Are we going to discourage children from riding bicycles? That proposition seems absurd. While seeing such high statistics is definitely alarming, it’s a risk that anyone who plays sports must face in order to participate.

It’s also hard to deny the health benefits that a sport like tackle football can provide for adolescents. “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., and today, the country has some of the highest obesity rates in the world: one out of six children is obese, and one out of three children is overweight or obese” With numbers like these, denying a child the opportunity to play any sport would be a possible detriment to their overall health. Football is a physically demanding sport that requires players to be in top shape, which can help children maintain a healthy weight, and build muscle.  Football also helps kids develop hand-eye coordination, speed, and agility.

Telling kids they shouldn’t partake in an activity because it’s dangerous might be taken the wrong way. No parent wants to see their kid get hurt but no parent wants to see their kid afraid of the world. Tackle football is a great place for kids to learn how to play in a team, communicate, and be unafraid when faced with a challenge. Most importantly it teaches them that in order to win there is going to be lots of effort and especially, lots of pushback. Granted they’ll likely earn a couple of bruises along the way but this attitude can follow them through the hardships that life will give them. 

Finally, there have been positive measures enacted in recent decades to make tackle football safer.  Equipment changes, concussion protocols, and players advocating for their well-being have improved compared to a generation ago.

If a parent decides it’s unsafe for their child to participate in a sport like tackle football, that’s okay. But other parents should be given the freedom of choice for their kids to participate. There’s risk in football but there are also costs associated with not letting kids partake in these types of activities.  For these reasons, it’s fair to conclude that the benefits of playing tackle football far outweigh the risks.

Children Should Not Play Tackle Football

Authors: Cheyanne Rider, Mackenzie Witnauer, Yahaira Suarez, and The Civil Discourse Program

Football is one of America’s favorite pastimes. From watching the $132 billion backed NFL to the NCAA all the way down to Pop Warner leagues, football is deeply entrenched in our culture. But at what cost? Children can start playing Pop Warner football as young as five years old. Injuries of all kinds are common in sports but football is the most dangerous for kids between 5-14For this reason, children should not play tackle football.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a fatal brain disease associated with recurrent traumatic brain injuries. This could include multiple concussions and repeated blows to the head. Some of the symptoms are memory and cognitive problems, confusion, personality changes, and/or erratic behavior including aggression, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. A diagnosis of CTE can only be made after death, but when it is suspected during life neurological exams, thorough brain history research, and brain imaging can be used to rule out any other causes. 

A joint study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, found that 25% of high school football players developed brain disease.  According to Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation “A football player’s odds of developing CTE may be most determined by their parents, specifically what age the child is allowed to start playing tackle football.” “It’s time to accept that CTE is not just a risk for professional and college football players, but also for high school players, and the best way to prevent CTE among football players is to delay the introduction of tackle football.” 

Brain injuries aren’t the only injuries of concern in youth tackle football. Joint injuries are extremely common in football. ACL/PCL and menisci injuries can have long-term effects on a player’s life outside of the sport and can cause premature arthritis. Football is hard on the body at any age, but it is particularly dangerous for developing bodies. There are seven to nine games in a regular Pop Warner season, ten in high school, and many practices in between for all levels. The players are subjected to hit after hit, tackle after tackle, dogpile after dogpile. The stresses that young bodies are exposed to in tackle football are not worth the risk of long-term and acute injuries.

There have been strides made to make tackle football safer at all levels but the serious risks of injuries remain. The benefits of team sports are undeniable and luckily there are much safer alternatives to tackle football for youths under 14. Flag football is an option within the Pop Warner organization. Kids are able to learn the game and reap all of the benefits with significantly less risk. 

Football is part of American culture. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. Sports are great for kids to learn healthy habits, teamwork, responsibility, and many other life skills.  That isn’t going to change either. The thing that must change is the risk we take by letting children play tackle football.

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