Research unveiled this week shows that 7-year-olds sustain hits of the same magnitude as adult players. A 16-year-old boy died after a blow to the head during a football game in New York earlier this month. And in the NFL, there were 11 concussions in the first two weeks of the regular season.
But even as cognizance of concussions and head injuries in the sport rises, participation remains strong: 6.2 million Americans play tackle football, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Earlier this year, a New York politician proposed to ban kids from the sport. The idea hasn't made it far, but the question lingers: Should kids play football?
While the research is often alarming -- the recent findings that revealed the severity of hits in the youngest players surprised even the researchers -- parents say they're glad that it’s being done.
Ed Resendez, coach of a Pop Warner football team for 8- to 10-year-olds in a suburb of Chicago, says the league has implemented big changes in the last few years: Hitting is limited to a third of total practice hours and requires training for coaches to recognize the signs of concussions.
“Knock on wood ... none of the kids I’ve coached have ever had a concussion,” he said. “A couple had some hard hits and I pulled them out of practice as a precautionary measure. Me personally, because my own son plays, I would rather err on the side of caution. We’ve had parents take kids to the hospital to double-check. With my own son, I would rather take a proactive stance. If he ever got hit that hard I would definitely have him get checked out.”
While the increased attention on football may scare some parents off, Resendez says others feel reassured, thankful for the information and hopeful that the sport has already gotten safer. No sport is risk-free, they point out.