REPORT: Brain Expert Says He Doesn’t Think Children Should Play Tackle Football

Atlanta Falcons Practice

With all the reports linking CTE to football and the ever-growing lists of former NFL players who have taken their lives as a result, the debate on whether kids should be playing tackle football has been a hot topic.

A study released on Tuesday seemed to side with those that believe they should not.  It stated children exposed to tackle football before age 12 are at greater risk for incurring brain issues later on in their lives compared to those who started playing after that age.

That particular study prompted one of the lead authors to say in an interview that he doesn’t “think there should be youth tackle football.”

“I really wish I could say I was surprised,” by the results, Robert Stern, a Boston University neuroscientist who has been studying the connection between repetitive head trauma and later-in-life neurocognitive issues for the past 10 years, told ESPN in an interview. “Instead, it was more, ‘Oh yeah, this really is a big deal.’ And it’s just one more piece of the puzzle that, at least when it comes to youth football, has now gotten me over the edge to say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be having our kids hitting their heads over and over and over while their brains are developing this way.'”

The peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry suggested that kids exposed to tackle football before the age of 12 are two times more likely to develop behavioral and emotional impairments later in life than those who start playing after that age. The study also found that kids who played before age 12 were three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression later in life.

Many former athletes have already publicly stated they would keep their sons out of football because of reports just like this.

This particular study is ground-breaking, being the first of its kind to show an association between early exposure to tackle football and long-term brain issues.

The research examined 214 former players — 146 of whom didn’t play beyond college — with a current average age of 51. The researchers said they set 12 as the threshold age “because the brain undergoes a key period of development and maturation between the ages of 10-12 in males.”

“Overall, we found the younger that kids started to play, the worse the risk,” he said. “… Having them exposed to so much repetitive head impact during these critical periods, I just don’t understand how we can keep doing that.”

Robert Stern wanted to make it clear that the study wasn’t focusing on single concussions—rather, it was concerned with repetitive head trauma and extended exposure..

“This should make people aware that we’re not focusing on concussion — that this is just playing the game,” Stern said.

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