DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New Study Targets Long-Range Effects on 6-12 Year-Olds

This past week, new research out of Boston University revealed that kids under the age of 12 who play tackle football have a tendency in later life to develop  behavioral, cognitive and depression issues.

Now, we have heard endlessly in recent years about the dangers of concussions from playing tackle football. And of course,  there’s the latest headline about Aaron Hernandez and the severe amount of CTE found in his brain. He was only 27 when he committed suicide. Who knows how many hits he suffered to his head starting at an early age? And his behavior was clearly out of control to have done the horrible acts he committed.

Along these lines, this new Boston University study comes forth, and concludes that young kids age 6-12 who play tackle football are lining themselves up for problems later in life.

I’m certainly not suggesting there’s a direct correlation between Aaron Hernandez and the BU study. But then again, it does make you ask questions.

And if sports parents needed to pinpoint a reason why their kids SHOULDN’T play football, they can point to this study.

I asked Ken Belson, the NY Times sportswriter who wrote the article, to join me this AM as I had several questions about what this study really means. And he was very upfront that this research, although it looked at a small group of only 214 individuals, definitely suggested that when kids are young, their brains are very, very soft and any kinds of hits – even hits that seem innocuous in youth football – could have a lasting impact. In fact, there was a study last year at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine that studied young kids for a year who played tackle football, and the number of hits to each kid’s head was in the thousands.

Since it’s been established that it’s the repetitive hits to the head that lead to serious concussion issues, the combination of these new studies from BU and Wake Forest are very troubling.

TIME TO SHIFT TO FLAG OR TOUCH FOOTBALL

Belson pointed that more and more youth football programs, even in football-crazed Texas, are taking these studies seriously, and offering flag football programs instead of tackle for young kids. I personally think that’s an excellent alternative. As one caller mentioned, for young kids who love football, it’s a lot more fun to play touch or flag football. Not only do they develop their athletic skills more, it just keeps them more fully engaged and in better shape.

The NFL, by the way, which has been relatively silent on this issue due to its legal battles with former NFL players and concussions, has quietly been encouraging kids to play flag football as well. That way, by the time they’re in 9th grade, they can then learn proper tackling techniques from well-trained HS football coaches.

These kinds of studies, while certainly frightening, at least provide sports parents with some better direction for their kids. And that’s of course good.

But that being said, there’s something still very troubling when more and more college programs and even the Canadian Football League now have rules in place NOT to have any physical contact drills during the week. That still reinforces the reality that contact sports, like football, carry a real risk regarding concussions.