Should tackle football be banned for youth under 14? Michiganders weigh in on debate

Posted at 1:44 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 18:26:39-04

(WXYZ) — For many, sports are a form of entertainment. For those who play, it's a way to stay active or perhaps it's a passion and a way of life. But with that, when it comes to contact sports, there's a new push to raise awareness about the potential risks.


"Concussion was my biggest fear of injury. Ya know, I've handled broken bones but concussion is a whole different experience," said parent Lauren Hoemke.

Hoemke said her biggest fear came true. After two years of playing flag football, she says her son Hunter started tackle football when he was 8 years old.

"He, at practice, squared up against the biggest kid on the team. It knocked him right out," she said. "It was hard to concentrate in school because his head would hurt. I think bed time was the worst. When he would go to bed, when he would finally stop moving, that was when his head would be in excruciating pain."

Hoemke said Hunter's pain persisted for four weeks.

Relatively short-term impact, compared to the longterm consequences of repeated blows to the head that the Concussion Legacy Foundation is warning parents about through this new public service announcement about keeping kids away from tackle football until they're 14:

CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease only able to be diagnosed upon death after an autopsy of the brain.

CTE has been in the spotlight in recent years because of its documented impact on former NFL players, some of whom suffered depression and have taken their own lives.
Considered one of the toughest to ever play, the PSA featured Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, who's said in the past he's suffered countless concussions.

"When I'm your age, what will matter to me is not my youth football career. But that like you I'm a great parent, and I can provide for my family," he said in the PSA.

Foundation co-founder Dr. Chris Nowinksi said the risk of developing CTE goes up 30 percent every year of playing tackle football.

"We're trying to change the entire sport and of course, people don't wanna believe the research. I'm a former football player myself who played in college. I don't want to believe the research, but unfortunately we know after studying nearly a thousand brains of football players, CTE is a very real problem," said Dr. Nowinski.

Dr. Steve Broglio, director of the University of Michigan Concussion Center at the School of Kinesiology, is helping study 50,000 varsity athletes and service academy cadets.

"I think this idea that you can't play contact sports before 14 is a little premature. There's some data that says it might be a risk and there's other data that says there is no risk," said Dr. Broglio.

Broglio says researchers need to spend some more time trying to understand the problem.

"We're really trying to understand what the long-term effects are. It's clear that not everybody's going to have issues. It's more than just football. We need to talk about women's soccer and ice hockey and wrestling and other sports," he said.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association said there are junior high schools, 7th and 8th grade, a part of the association.

In a statement regarding tackle football, the MHSAA said:

"The MHSSA has made preventing head injuries in all sports a major focus over many years and especially the last decade. There have been substantial changes in football limiting the amount of time that schools can practice contact, which in turn limits collisions, and we feel strongly that we are continuing to make the game safer."

For 11-year-old Hunter, the safest play was playing another sport.

"I had to make the right decision and I quitted, and I went to baseball instead of football," said Hunter.