Perceptions of football are changing, and the sport itself is bound to change with them. In the wake of this year’s Super Bowl, the link between football, concussions, and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is garnering significant public attention. How will football change to address these growing concerns?
To answer that question, the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program convened writers, medical professionals, policy experts, and former NFL players to discuss “The Future of Football” on January 25. Here are the conversation’s highlights.
Scott Hallenbeck: Football is “behind the times”
Scott Hallenbeck, the executive director of USA Football, said football is “behind the times”— the sport needs to do more to prioritize safety and accommodate parents who are concerned for their children. One way could be to push for multiple entries to the sport, much like baseball already does with both T-ball and softball.
Former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth wonders if we need football
Domonique Foxworth, a writer for The Undefeated and former NFL cornerback, urged listeners to keep in mind the effects of repeated concussions and CTE — even after high school. Even if youth football was widely reformed, football would still be a dangerous sport, Foxworth said.
Dr. Robert Cantu explains the socioeconomic implications of football injuries
The dangers of youth tackle football disproportionately impact children from lower-income backgrounds, said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder of the CTE center at Boston University. When kids from lower socioeconomic status see football as one of their only shots at a college education or a successful career, they don’t have a choice—they’re forced to take the hits for a chance at college.
Jennifer Brown Lerner on why the NFL needs to push flag football
Jennifer Brown Lerner, policy manager for the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, said the NFL needs to brand flag football as a viable option. As the mother of a flag football player, she thinks young people need to see messaging that presents flag football not just as a safe choice, but as the best one.
Crystal Dixon opens up about her son’s death from football
Crystal Dixon’s son, Donnovan Hill became paralyzed and died after suffering an injury in a Pop Warner game. The question of youth football’s danger is actually a deep-running, societal issue, she said.
Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens “OK waiting until high school”
Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth head coach, thinks it’s ok to wait until high school for tackle football. He said players can definitely learn the necessary skills, even later on. His main concern is that tackle football won’t realistically just disappear, so it needs to be minimized for younger age groups.
Tom Green, Eleanor Roosevelt HS head coach, says kids will still choose football
Tom Green, the head coach of Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s football team, pointed out that football still has way more available scholarships than any other sport. Some kids see it as the only way for them to pay for college. As long as that stays true, kids will keep wanting to play for the upward mobility it offers them.
Former NFL linebacker Chris Borland explains why he supports waiting until high school to introduce tackling in games
Chris Borland, a former NFL linebacker, said he’s not even such a thing as “safe tackling” exists, especially in youth leagues with amateur players. Asking children to be expert tacklers when they’re only 5 years old doesn’t make sense, he said.
University of Iowa team physician has “no problem with kids playing tackle football”
Dr. Andrew Peterson, University of Iowa team physician, says that injury rates are low and mostly predicated on long careers and repeated hits—not a few years of contact sports during middle or high school. He thinks that based on the data, it’s ok for young kids to be playing tackle football.