past event

Future of Football: Reimagining the Game’s Pipeline


Six years ago, the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program convened a roundtable of thought leaders from across the landscape to explore ways to improve health and safety protections, and grow participation, in youth football. Since then, many efforts have been by made to improve the game, from better coaching programs to, in some cases, limits on practice contact.

Still, participation rates nationally continue to fall, with parents increasingly concerned about brain and other injuries to their children. New knowledge about the impact of repetitive head contact has prompted some leaders to propose holding off on tackle football until high school, or later. Is that the future of football – participation in flag football only until ninth grade? What leadership must be provided, from the NFL to policymakers to coaches, to regain public confidence in the game’s health and safety protections?

On Jan. 25, we held a conversation at the Aspen Institute (2300 N St NW, Washington D.C.) about taking next steps to improve the nation’s most-watched sport. The event was free and included lunch, and the conversation was streamed live.

Read the Aspen Institute white paper on the future of football

Watch highlights from the Future of Football conversations.

Read the transcript from the conversations

Speakers included:

  • Chris Borland, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker who retired after one year due to concerns about head injuries
  • Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder of the CTE Center at the Boston University School of Medicine; senior advisor to the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee
  • Domonique Foxworth, writer, The Undefeated; former NFL cornerback/ex-NFL Players Association president
  • Scott Hallenbeck, executive director, USA Football
  • Buddy Teevens, head coach, Dartmouth College
  • Dr. Andrew Peterson, University of Iowa football team physician; executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness
  • Tom Green, head coach/athletic director, Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Greenbelt, Md.)
  • Jennifer Brown Lerner, Aspen Institute policy manager for the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development; mom of flag football player 

The conversation was moderated by Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program, whose reporting on youth football has won national honors, including the Columbia University-Alfred I. Dupont Award with ESPN.

“Future of Football” is part of a new 2018 conversation series by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program “Future of Sports” The events are open to the public and free, with lunch served, though space is limited. Questions, and requests for media credentials, can be emailed to Jon Solomon, editorial director for the Sports & Society Program.

Future of Football Media Coverage:

Children should avoid tackle football before high school, report says, by Rachel Bachman, Wall Street Journal

What’s the big football story? Flag is more popular than tackle, by Fred Bowen, The Washington Post

Sports institute declares flag football should be the standard until kids reach high school, by Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports

New study suggests that flag football should be standard until high school, by Emily Caron, Sports Illustrated

Aspen Institute recommends flag become the standard way to play football before high school, by Bruce Lee, Forbes

New report recommends kids don’t play tackle football until high school, by Kelli Murray,

New report recommends kids don’t play tackle football until high school, by Blake Harper,

Why risk it? Youth tackle football should be on the endangered list, by John Canzano, The Oregonian

If this study is heeded, kids will be banned from tackle football until 14, by Gary Peterson, San Jose Mercury News

Report: Shift youth football model from tackle to flag, by Ryan Basen, MedPage Today

Parents should know all they can about tackle football’s effects, whether the sport is worth the risks, by Roger Chesley, The Virginian-Pilot

Editorial: Football taking hits, by Caledonian Record

Here is a radical solution for improving player safety in youth football, by Peter Dawson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Ex-NFL player is advocate for flag football for tackle football among y​o​u​t​h​s​​, by Tom Schad, USA Today

Brain Damage, the Super Bowl, and M​e​, by Joe Nocera, Bloomberg View

Bills in Illinois, New York propose age restriction for tackle football among y​o​u​t​h​s​​, by Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post

I don’t know that we need football as a thing. Families flee America’s favorite s​p​o​r​t​​, by Brian Murphy, The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Will Football Be Safer in the F​u​t​u​r​e​?​ by Ryan Basen, MedPage

Maryland to introduce bill to ban tackle football under age 14 by Noah Frank, WTOP

Maryland lawmakers to introduce legislation to prohibit tackle football for kids under 14 by Tom Schad, USA Today

California is the fourth state in a month to propose banning youth tackle football by Edwin Rios, Mother Jones

What the science tells us about making football safer on this CTE Awareness Day by Genna Reed, Union of Concerned Scientists

Is tackle football for children harming their brains? by Lisa L. Lewis, Everyday Health

Related Content: 

2016 Project Play Summit panel: Brain Injuries: How much science do we need to act?
Watch // Quotes
Moderator: Mark Hyman, Professor, George Washington University
Kevin Bieniek, Research Fellow, Mayo Clinic
Kate Carr, President and CEO, Safe Kids Worldwide
Dr. Sam Gandy, Prof. of Neurology and Psychiatry, Mount Sinai
Dr. Gerard Gioia, Division Chief, Neuropsychology, Children’s National Health System
Dr. Bennet Omalu, Chief Medical Examiner, San Joaquin County (Calif.) and Professor, University of California-Davis

Playing Safety” | 2012 Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program roundtable on youth football

A new study shows that hits to the head, not concussions, cause CTE,” | The Washington Post (2018) 

“110 NFL Brains,” New York Times article study that found 110 of the 111 brains examined had disease linked to repeated blows to the head (2017)

“Drew Brees Has a Plan to Save Football,” Wall Street Journal (2017)

“New version of football targets falling youth participation rates,” Associated Press (2017)

“State of Play 2017: Trends and Developments,” Aspen Institute Project Play report that includes the latest participation rates across sports

“Chris Borland Blasts NFL for Hiding CTE Risks,” New York Times (2017)

“Ivy League eliminating tackling in practice will be football’s new normal,” CBS Sports (2016)

“Football or basketball? In age of CTE and AAU, it’s a tough call for players, parents,” Washington Post (2017)

“Domonique Foxworth saw ‘Concussion’ and it made him question everything,” USA Today (2016)

“Pop Warner football player paralyzed at 13 dies at 18,” ESPN (2016)

“Study Cites Youth Football for Issues,” ESPN (2015)

The Sports & Society Program thanks Marilyn and Michael Glosserman for their generous support of the Future of Sports conversation series.

Event information
Thu Jan 25, 2018
12:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
The Aspen Institute
2300 N St. NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC