The numbers don’t lie. When it comes to sports in America, nothing’s bigger than football. More people watch it than any other sport, and the NFL’s marquee event, the Super Bowl, is viewed by roughly one-third of the country annually. But the sport’s wild popularity provides cover for a number of problems, not the least of which is the staggering number of injuries players at all levels suffer. And that’s why we need to end youth football in America.
According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics, every year, more than 775,000 kids under age 14 are treated in E.R.s for sports injuries. Nearly 215,000 of those come from youth football, with 10,000 kids requiring extra hospitalization. Though many consider hockey one of the most violent of team sports, for every reported injury from youth hockey, there are ten from football.
Those statistics alone are disconcerting, but also consider the impact of concussions or, worse, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That debilitating condition, caused by repetitive blows to the head, has been shown to contribute to a wide range of maladies, from depression and anxiety to insomnia and memory loss. In the worst cases, it’s a factor in behavioral issues, progressive dementia, and even suicide. And it isn’t confined to NFL athletes. According to a 2012 piece in the Journal of School Health, every year, youth football players between the ages of 5 and 18 suffer 23,000 nonfatal traumatic brain injuries. The cumulative effect of these injuries doesn’t begin at the advanced levels; it begins anytime a child laces up and takes a blow to the head, no matter their age.
For every reported injury from youth hockey, there are ten from football.
If you’re wondering how youth football continues to exist with all these possible outcomes (not to mention the potential for paralysis, broken bones, and internal injuries), then you’re asking the right question.
Sure, removing youth football from middle schools and junior highs would dismantle the feeder system that leads to high school, college, and the pros. To that I say, “So what?” The long-term health of America’s kids is more important.
This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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