Late last year, the movie Concussion dramatized the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE [if you haven’t seen the movie yet; I recommend it]. The movie attempts to move the discussion from a football fan or football parent-driven one to a more general public discussion. As a youth recreational sports advocate, this issue hits home as parents consider whether their children should play football. Two recent magazine articles highlight the shift from a football-only audience to a wider audience:
- In the February issue of Wired magazine (and last week’s Sports Illustrated) writer Steve Rushin imagines how the game has evolved 50 years from now with a recap of Super Bowl 100 (the NFL having abandoned Roman numerals with the unwieldy Super Bowl LXXXVIII). In addition to other evolutions in the game (no kickoffs, female players, electronic first down and goal line markers), Rushin refers to the threat to football’s future CTE presents and how the NFL ‘dealt’ with it. Futuristic innovations including new materials that make helmets mend themselves, EEG capabilities built into the helmets, and an antibody to treat CTE.
- In the January/February edition of MIT Technology Review (yes, that MIT!), an article asks “Are Young Athletes Risking Brain Damage?” Referring to a study comparing retired NFL players who started playing football before and after the age of 12 and noting the intense development that occurs in children’s brains between the ages of 8 and 12; the author recommends “youth leagues should switch to flag football and ban tackling for kids under 14”.
My Hustle & Attitude philosophy advocates for safety as a key ingredient to having positive experiences in youth recreational sports. In previous posts, I have also advocated for flag football as an alternative to tackle football before high school. And, in terms of long-term player safety, I believe this is the most important issue to the future of the NFL. It’s not difficult for me to imagine Super Bowl 100 being very different from Rushin’s. A game where there is no tackling at all – essentially a seven-on-seven skill game where the players have sensors in their gloves and uniforms and play two-hand touch. Sound crazy? If an entire generation of parents discourage or don’t allow their kids to play tackle football because of long-term safety concerns…