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Protecting Futures: Unraveling the Risks of Youth Tackle Football

Would you let your child risk their body for a game of football? Youth tackle football has been a popular and cherished sport for generations, but it is estimated that over 80% of children who play will sustain an injury at some point playing. The question of whether tackle football should be legal for kids under 18 has risen for the safety of children. I believe that it should not be allowed because children under 18 can suffer many injuries from playing, and the risks at such an early age include traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other physical injuries.

Tackle football poses a significant risk of TBIs, such as concussions. Young athletes’ developing brains are more vulnerable to the lasting effects of such injuries, which can include cognitive deficits, memory impairment, and even chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Even NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre doesn’t agree with young kids playing youth tackle football, saying that it isn’t worth the risk.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the risk of sustaining a concussion in youth tackle football is unacceptably high, making it essential to protect young athletes. According to Bronx Time reporting, NY State Assembly Member Michael Benedetto wants to eliminate tackle football for under-12s, replacing it with flag football, resulting in accusations that he’s “wussifying” the game.

Children and adolescents are still undergoing physical and neurological development. The repeated high-impact collisions that occur in tackle football can affect children’s healthy development and increase the likelihood of injuries. Restricting tackle football until the age of 18 allows young athletes to reach a more mature physical state, reducing the risk of long-term damage. 11Alive writer Meredith Sheldon emphasizes that “Because a child’s brain is still developing, they do have a higher risk of developing CTE,” including problems with cognition, movement disorders, tremors, and psychological disorders. CTE can affect people’s abilities to perform normal activities of daily living, such as shopping and cooking and can also lead to impulsive behavior. Parents, coaches, and governing bodies have an ethical responsibility to prioritize the safety and well-being of young athletes. Allowing children to participate in a sport with a high risk of injuries contradicts this duty.

Banning tackle football for children under 18 aligns with a responsible and ethical approach to youth sports. In recent years, lawsuits against youth football organizations and schools have highlighted the legal liability associated with allowing young children to play tackle football. According to reporting from Pomerado News, a federal court lawsuit seeks to restrict under-14s from tackle football and professional development for staff overseeing football programs. CTE and TBIs aren’t the only damages that can be done to young kids. In research published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr. Andrew Peterson reports, “the most commonly reported injures in youth football are fractures, sprains, strains, and contusions. The rates of fracture have been the most consistent between studies, with 27% to 35% of reported injuries

being fractures.” By banning the sport for this age group, legal risks and potential lawsuits could be significantly reduced, protecting both players and organizations.

Although banning tackle football limits some kids’ involvement in sports, there are plenty of alternatives such as flag football, touch football, or other sports that don’t involve as much physical activity. Statistics have shown that youth tackle football athletes between the ages 6 and 14 sustained 15 times more head impacts than those who played flag football.

Some argue that parents should have the freedom to decide whether their children play tackle football. Dr. Robert Glatter, Director of Sports Medicine and Traumatic Brain Injury at Lenox Hill Hospital confirms that “Banning tackle football for children under 18 is a reasonable and responsible safety measure. It recognizes the elevated risks of traumatic brain injuries and developmental harm that young athletes face when participating in this physically demanding sport. Protecting the physical and mental health of young athletes should be a paramount concern.”

Football is a way that kids can build bonds with other people and keep active. Coach Chewy Orr, head coach of the Oakland Dynamites Youth Football Club, argues against restrictions on youth tackle football. “Especially for us in the inner city, this is a tool we use to keep kids and parents active and busy.”

While parental choice is important, it must be balanced with concerns for child safety, especially when the risks are well-documented. Advocates for youth tackle football argue that with the right coaching, proper training, and safety equipment, the risk of injuries can be minimized. Football provides opportunities to kids. Some parents want their kids to play tackle football at an early age with the dream of playing professionally or in college. If they develop the skills and have the talent, their kid can receive a full-ride scholarship to college and even possibly play in the NFL. The tuition for attending college has drastically increased, but football can help solve this problem for some people. Ohio State University doctoral student in sociology Mariah Warner argues that for less advantaged people, football is seen as one of the only ways they can get ahead in society, which may explain why they do it for their kids. While safety measures are crucial, they may not eliminate the risk of the sport entirely.

Banning tackle football for children under 18 is a reasonable and responsible safety measure. It recognizes the elevated risks of TBIs and the developmental harm that young athletes face. Rather than depriving children of valuable life lessons, it redirects them toward safer alternatives that can provide the same benefits without exposing them to unnecessary risks. Protecting the physical and mental health of young athletes should be a main priority, and restricting tackle football until the age of 18 is a big step in that direction.

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