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Courtney: Should we let our children play tackle football?

This question doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

It’s the week of the Super Bowl. It’s the most-watched sporting event in the United States. Many, if not most, of those reading this column will be tuning in on Sunday to watch the Chiefs play the Eagles. I know I will be.

In the lead-up to the game, there are plenty of reasonable questions to ask. Is Patrick Mahomes going to play well? Why doesn’t the Super Bowl happen on a Saturday? What snacks should I bring to the party?

They’re all reasonable questions. The most important one, though, is the title of this piece. Should we let our children play tackle football?

When I write a question in my title, I usually have an answer in mind. That is not the case this time. I truly don’t know. Part of me hopes writing this piece will help me form my own answer to the question because, as of now, I just don’t know.

Youth sports are powerful. I coach a 14-and-under soccer team and have seen firsthand the power sports can have. I believe we should all encourage our children to take part in sports or any other activity (music, speech, debate, etc.) because they add so much value to our children’s lives.

Extracurriculars help kids develop social skills, teamwork and a good work ethic. Also, they’re fun. Above all else, we should just let our children have fun.

Football is definitely fun. It encourages the development of social skills, teamwork and a work ethic.

Check, check, check.

But these characteristics aren’t unique to tackle football. They also exist in other sports. And there are plenty of downsides to football that either don’t exist in other sports, or at the very least are far less extreme.

Take head injuries, for example. Boys’ football leads all youth sports in head injuries, with 10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures. It’s followed by girls’ soccer, with 8.2 per 10,000 athlete exposures.

I know what you’re thinking, that doesn’t seem like much of a difference. To a certain extent, that is true. But, due to the nature of these sports, the nature of their head injuries is different.

A soccer player might suffer a concussion after going head-to-head once with another player and be removed from the game. Over time, a football player can suffer thousands (yes, thousands) of subconcussive blows to the head while never actually suffering a concussion. Research shows these subconcussive blows have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, which is a degenerative brain disease that can result from repeated hits to the head.

Further changes certainly can and should be made to sports like soccer to make them safer. But while these changes can be made in soccer, they can’t be made in football. Soccer could and should cut back further on heading at the youth level, and it wouldn’t hurt the integrity of the sport. Football is by nature a violent sport with far more collisions.

Is football a requirement for our kids to develop all of these skills and reap the benefits of youth sports? I don’t think so. The consequences of repetitive head injuries in football are alarming, and the benefits of youth sports and activities can be found in areas other than the football field.

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  • Meat Eater
    Feb 19, 2023 at 6:03 pm

    football is too violent, just give them a participation trophy and tell them they are heroes.