Concussions and repetitive head injuries are not just experienced by pro players. In fact, more than three-quarters of the football players in the United States are under the age of 14 and they are just as – and perhaps more – susceptible to head injuries because their brains are still developing.
Should these three million youngsters be playing the sport?
“Most pro football players probably began playing the game as children, so it is imperative that we conduct more scientific research to fully understand the effects of repeated hits to the brains of children and teens,” said Joel Stitzel, Ph.D., chairman of the Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Science.
“But completely banning children from playing football is not the best option. Team sports, including football, have many positive benefits for kids, so finding ways to make these sports safer should be our objective. Pop Warner football already has made important changes to its regulations, and more needs to be done to improve equipment, practice guidelines and regulations based on the most current research findings.”
Stitzel and his team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are collaborating with researchers at Virginia Tech and two other universities on the largest and most comprehensive biomedical study of youth football players to date. The five-year project is being funded by a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. The potential impact of this study is significant because there are more than 3 million youth football players across the country.