opinion

COLUMN: Youth football needs to be safer



I never loved football. I went to games because my friends were there, but I always thought the pace of the game was rather slow and could never stay interested. Even though I wasn’t particularly fond of the game, I never hated it, nor did I think it should be banned. 

However, after recent evidence was revealed of football's effect on young and professional players’ brains, I strongly believe that youth football should be limited until it can be made safer.

There has been a consistent connection between football and brain injuries. The Journal of American Medicine conducted a study observing the brains of 202 former football players. Eighty-seven percent of all the players, professional or not, were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative condition that kills brains cells. 

This can ultimately cause problems with memory judgment and could lead to dementia. In NFL players observed, 99 percent had CTE. Of the players with severe CTE, 85 percent showed signs of dementia and even more had behavioral problems

This poses an important question about safety and football. It becomes especially important when discussing youth football and the effects on children's developing brains. 

Christopher Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, studied MRIs of youth football players, ranging from eight to 13 years old. He took images of the brain at the beginning of the season and at the end. He found that with increased head impacts, there was a decrease in ordered water movement in the brain, a sign associated with head trauma.

These effects could hurt children as they become older. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered that NFL players who had played football since before adolescence had a higher risk for changes in brain development.  

And it’s not just brain damage that is worrisome. In a journal article published Sept. 12, 2017, in Translational Psychiatry, scientists found that youth tackle football was correlated to problems in behavior, including increased apathy and chances of depression. This study did not just include NFL players but also former college and high school players. 

Since 2008, participation in tackle football for boys under the age of 12 has dropped by 20 percent. Many schools closed tackle football programs, and there has been an increased number of children joining other sports

It's very unlikely that football programs will be shut down altogether. However, this sport should be made safer – especially for children. 

Thankfully, organizations are catching on to this idea. The NFL has started promoting flag football instead of tackle football for children because of this increased risk for brain damage. And organizations like Pop Warner, a youth football organization, have reduced contact in practice

Football is most likely not going to go away anytime soon. If played right, having kids involved in the sport can be great thing for physical fitness and team building. However, this game needs to be safer. A decision to join a sports team at the age of 7 should not affect your mental capacities at the age of 40. 

npatwari@indiana.edu

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