The Effects of Tackle Football On the Brain – How Safe is Your Youth Player?

Posted on September 17, 2018

With football season upon us, more than 1,000,000 children in the U.S. will be returning to the field. As research highlighting the correlation between youth tackle football and later-life cognitive and emotional problems increases, the number of children playing tackle football in America has declined roughly six percent in the past decade. For parents with children playing tackle football, there are important considerations to be aware of to ensure the safety of your child.

Earlier this year, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and VA Boston Healthcare System studied nearly 250 football players, 211 of which were diagnosed with CTE after their death. CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease that is known to begin after repeated head trauma. This study was published in the respected medical journal the Annals of Neurology. The scientists found that playing tackle football before the age of 12 increased the odds of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy, and executive functioning later in life by twofold, and the odds of suffering symptoms of depression threefold.  The results were consistent for players with varying levels of football experience. Even for children who didn’t continue after high school, playing tackle football before the age of 12 increased their risk of behavior and mood problems as adults. “We found that to be pretty remarkable,” says Dr. Michael Alosco, the lead author of the study.

Studies conducted over the past three years have highlighted the risk of adolescents playing tackle football.  In 2015, a study of NFL players published in the journal of Neurology concluded that cognitive impairment later in life was associated with ex-NFL players who participated in tackle football before 12.  Similarly, a study published in the journal of Radiology in 2016, looked at brain imaging on 25 youth football players between the ages of 8 and 13.  The imaging showed a significant relationship between head impacts and changes to white matter which coordinates communication between the different parts of the brain.  These studies were limited in size and scope and much research remains to be conducted. Critics argue that it is difficult to assess an NFL player who has experienced thousands of hits and determine what effect early tackle football has on current functioning.

Most experts agree however, there is a benefit to waiting until age 14 to start tackle football.  As stated by Dr. Robert Cantu from the Boston University Neurology Department, “If you have to take hits to the head at all, you’re better off taking them at later ages.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury. Everyone is at risk for a TBI, especially children and older adults.  TBI affects children differently than adults.  In a 2018 report to congress by the CDC stated “An injury of any severity to the developing brain can disrupt a child’s development”. For further information on the effects of concussions and TBI on children please see the CDC website located at

The lawyers at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP have had record success representing children with various levels of TBI.  Contact an our attorneys at 877.800.1700 to answer any questions you may have and/or to help you with your case.

Disclaimer:  Legal information presented at this site should not be considered formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future matter. Please note that you are not considered a client until you have signed a retainer agreement and your case has been accepted by us.

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