Youth Football Concussions – Part 1

Read the Children's Safety Blog on Youth Football Concussions.
Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli kept both of his sons out of organized football until they were in the 7th grade. Partly because there was no organized youth football team in his New Orleans neighborhood. He did not prevent them from playing but did not go out of his way to expose them to organized tackle football. Tom Brady Sr., father to Tom Brady Jr. of the New England Patriots did not allow his son to play youth league tackle football until he was in the 9th grade. Why? Tom Brady Sr. felt his son’s skinny frame was not ready for the physical punishment consistent with youth football. Brady Sr. created controversy in 2012 when he told Yahoo’s Michael Silver he’d be “very hesitant” to let a son play at all today, given what he’s learned about concussions.
Football is a contact sport. Yes it is a cliche but in fact, football is a contact sport. In theory a football helmet is supposed to protect but in too many cases it ends up being used as a weapon by the defensive player. Most leagues have rules that prohibit using a helmet as the point of contact on a tackle but there are too many times those rules are disregarded. The hard plastic that a helmet is constructed from can injure. Ironically it does a poor job of protecting the head and a terrible job of protecting the neck.
An estimated 3.5 million American families let their kids play pre-high school tackle in 2012. About 250,000 of them play Pop Warner, which actually has a tackle division for 5-year-olds. There are also scores of less organized youth leagues around the country. These are organizations without trainers on the sidelines and amateur coaches who have no comprehension of the symptoms of a concussion.
Supporters of youth tackle argue that it gives children the right skills and training, and that those who don’t play will be at a competitive disadvantage later. Archie Manning disagrees when he states, it’s just “not necessary. There isn’t a skill that can’t be learned in flag football.”
A boy playing tackle football experiences some ugly biomechanical effects. At those young ages a boy’s body-to-brain ratio resembles exactly that of a bobblehead. While his skull is nearly grown, his brain is still tender and sensitive to trauma. His body is relatively small and his neck is weak . Impact will create a whiplash effect.
In 2012 a group of researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest put sensors on helmets of 7-year-olds and measured the g-forces of their impacts. They found that their heads accelerating on those thin necks created impacts equal to those of adults, some of them at 40gs.
“It looks like a pillow-fight, but the brain thinks it’s in a war,” says Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard defensive tackle and pro wrestler turned concussion expert. “It’s interesting that we have a national discussion about how dangerous pro and college football is, but we fail to recognize that they are much better protected than children are. Why are we hitting children in the heads hundreds of times a season, without even the protection we give adults?”
Nowinski is president of the Sports Legacy Institute. He is also co-director with Robert Cantu of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, dedicated to researching the long- term effects of repetitive brain trauma. Cantu, who is also a neurosurgeon at Boston University School of Medicine and the author of 29 books on neurology and sports medicine including “Concussions and Our Kids,” has recommended banning tackle football for all children under the age of 14. I’m sure you already know that has created a lot of controversy.
In Part 2 we discuss High School football and concussions and a helmet that might actually protect football players.
“Youth football concussions can be prevented: Ask Archie Manning and Tom Brady Sr. how” Published in the Washington Post, written by Sally Jenkins, October 02, 2013
Photo credit: StuSeeger / / CC BY


Here is an infographic from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia titled: Common Myths About Concussions
Children's Safety Blog CHOP Concussion Symptoms. Children's Safety Blog CHOP Common Myths About Concussions.