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Foss: Should kids play tackle football?

Foss: Should kids play tackle football?

Foss: Should kids play tackle football?
Photographer: Shutterstock

Football is a great game. 

It's fun and exciting and promotes teamwork and discipline. I have fond memories of playing touch football with friends at recess, and I'd like to think that someday my son might enjoy tossing a football around with his friends. 

That said, I've already decided that he won't be playing tackle football at a young age. 

An explosion of research indicates that nothing good can come from repeatedly being hit in the head. 

The degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been linked to playing football, rugby and other contact sports, and concussions sustained at an early age are now understood to cause lasting damage to the developing brain. 

Now the New York State Legislature is poised to consider banning tackle football among children 12 and under. The Assembly's health committee held a public hearing on the topic Tuesday, and people on both sides of the issue shared their views. 

I'm sympathetic to the idea that parents don't want the government telling them when their kids can play football. 

But I find it impossible to ignore the risks posed by playing tackle football at a young age. 

If we can protect children from unnecessary brain damage, we should do it. 

One study, released this month by the Boston University School of Medicine, found that the longer a person plays tackle football, the more likely they are to develop CTE — that for every 2.6 years of play, the risk of developing CTE doubles. 

That's concerning. 

So is a 2018 analysis of the brains of 211 deceased football players that found that those who played football as children experienced the onset of CTE at a much earlier age. 

Given what we know about the long-term consequences of getting hit in the head, it makes sense to look for ways to limit hits. 

As the writer Gregg Easterbrook, author of the football column "Tuesday Morning Quarterback," wrote in a New York Times op-ed, "We don't let 10-year-olds smoke; we should not let them bash one another's heads. For football to continue to thrive, youth tackle needs to be outlawed, by Congress or by state legislatures. Schools as well as parks and recreation departments should not issue permits for youth tackle on their fields." 

Other sports have already taken steps to protect youth from head injuries. 

US Soccer banned heading balls for children 10 and under, and limits heading for children between the ages of 11 and 13 to 30 minutes a week. That's a big change from when I played soccer. USA Hockey eliminated checking for players younger than 13. 

These changes are a concession to reality: Hitting kids in the head, over and over again, is a bad idea. 

In an ideal world, youth football would acknowledge this, and limit tackling to teenagers whose bodies are better able to handle it. 

We know a lot more than we used to about head injuries, sports and contact, and it's OK to change the rules to reflect this. Kids will continue to play football because it's fun, and we'll all benefit from the increased attention to their health and well-being. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.      

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