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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Youth football takes more hits

Children who are five, six and seven can play Pop Warner “Tiny-Mite” football.

California, Illinois and New York legislators are considering banning children from playing tackle football because of the risks of brain injury, writes Lisa L. Lewis in Everyday Health.

New York Assemblyman Michael Benedetto was accused of “trying to wussify America” when he introduced a bill to ban youth football in 2013, he says.

Now research has shown risks, especially for those who started playing tackle football in elementary or middle school.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation encourages parents to have their children play flag football until they turn 14.

There are ways to minimize the risk from tackle football, such as eliminating having players tackle each other in practice. Buddy Teevens, the head football coach at Dartmouth College, updated Dartmouth’s practice policies in 2010 so that players hit pads or robotic tackling dummies instead of each other. . . . “We practice the skill of tackling more than we used to, and we have fewer injuries.”

If the Safe Youth Football Act passes in California, organized sports programs couldn’t offer tackle football till high school.

In Illinois, the Dave Duerson Act, named after a football star diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his suicide, bans contact football before the age of 12.

Playing football appears to be hard on the brain, reports Time.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the brains of 202 deceased people who had played football at various levels, from high school to the NFL. . . . They diagnosed CTE in 87% of the players. Among the 111 NFL players, 99% had CTE.

Former high school players tended to have mild symptoms, while “most college, semi-professional and professional players had severe symptoms.”

Before age 12, children should play touch or flag football, writes Lawrence Robbins, a physician, in the Northwest Herald (Illinois).

Children . . . have an underdeveloped and fragile nervous system. The “white matter” of the brain is critical for a number of functions, including protecting the brain. This white matter slowly develops until the early 20s. In children aged 6 through 12, it is unable to help shield the brain from trauma.

Preventing concussions isn’t enough, writes Robbins. “Sub-concussive” blows add up over time.

Children’s heads are oversized for their body, similar to a bobblehead. When the head is struck, neck and shoulder muscles cushion the blow. In younger kids, these muscles are small and weak. There is little to prevent the brain from smashing against the skull after a forceful blow.

“Limiting hitting in practice, adopting better helmets, teaching improved techniques and not allowing full tackling” are “mildly helpful, but inadequate,” he writes.

The New York Times reported on a child custody fight over football. Divorced parents can’t agree whether their 17-year-old son should continue to play football after suffering three concussions. It’s the father who thinks football is too dangerous.

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