Should Youth Football be Banned?

(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Esquire writer Luke O’Neil recalls playing tackle football as a kid, a game where “you can hit so hard that you knock yourself out and wake up confused and distraught on the sideline, seeing yellow.” A new study from Boston University suggests that tackle football is too dangerous for the developing brains of youths from age six to 12, and O’Neil wonders how much damage he did to his still-forming brain.

It was the final game of yet another woeful season for our team against a much larger nearby city. I don’t remember the score, but I know we lost, because we always lost. And yet, even in playing football in futility, knowing you are likely to lose, there are victories to be snatched from defeat. A ferocious tackle. A shuddering block. You can hit people so hard that long after they beat you, they remember you were there …

… The new BU study, which surveyed still-living former players, determined those who began playing at a young age (before 12) showed double the risk of developing behavioral problems like apathy, and triple the risk of getting depression compared to players who started later.

Roughly 1.23 million kids ages 6 to 12 played tackle football in 2015, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a slight increase over the previous year. That age is significant, because a child’s brain has yet to fully develop by then …

… It’s easy to over-diagnose yourself when looking at a list of symptoms, but for as long as I can remember, these things have been a daily part of my life: sensitivity to sound and light, poor memory, ringing in my ears, apathy, and depression. It may not have anything to do with football — people suffer from mental and emotional disorders for all sorts of reasons.

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