Eliminate Youth Contact Football, New Saint Leo Poll Shows

September 29, 2017

Kids standing on football fieldA majority of Americans say youths should not play contact football, according to a new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey. The nonpartisan poll (http://polls.saintleo.edu) was conducted online among 1,000 American adults from September 10 through September 16.

The hard knocks and multiple concussions that football players often suffer during games and practice are cause for concern. Recent research showed that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in the brains of more than 100 former professional NFL players, some of whom committed suicide. The findings were published in July in The Journal of the American Medical Association

Researchers from Boston University examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. The brains were donated to the program. CTE was “neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87 percent), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99 percent),”The Journal of the AMA reported. The researchers noted that CTE may be related to prior participation in football.

Symptoms of CTE include confusion, memory loss, anger, depression, and even dementia. The issues can occur years after receiving the blows to the head.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute introduced the topic as follows:

“Recent studies have suggested that youth, at elementary or middle school age, playing or practicing football are suffering from increased numbers of spine and neck injuries, concussions and even elevated risk for heart attacks in otherwise healthy young people.  One recent study showed 7-year-olds are receiving ‘adult sized impacts’ when playing or practicing football.”

Poll respondents were asked four questions regarding youth football and concussions:

● In general would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the elimination of youth contact football prior to entering high school?

● “Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the elimination of youth contact football prior to entering middle school?”

● “And, how likely would you be to encourage your own child or another child to wait until they reach high school before playing contact football if you had the opportunity?”

● “And, how likely would you be to encourage your own child or another child to avoid, altogether, playing contact football if you had the opportunity?”

youth playing football

While the national survey was being conducted, the polling institute also asked a separate sample of 500 adult residents of Florida the same questions. Youth, high school, college, and professional football is popular in Florida, which is home to Saint Leo University. 

Nationally, 52.5 percent of those surveyed say they support eliminating youth contact football prior to high school. In Florida, the polls shows 55.8 percent say they would support jettisoning contact football before high school.

In Saint Leo’s poll, the national survey shows 56.6 percent say they support elimination of the contact sport for children prior to entering middle school while 56.1 percent of Florida respondents agree.

Nearly two-thirds (61.5 percent) of Americans surveyed say they likely would encourage their child to wait until high school to play football (62 percent of Florida poll respondents).

A majority would recommend that their own child or another child avoid playing contact football altogether, the poll shows, at 53 percent. In Florida, 53.4 percent said they would do the same.

Dr. Christopher Wolfe, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, said his classes discuss sports and head injuries. “I have seen some recent reports suggesting any head injury is trauma and causes injury in the brain,” Wolfe said. “It's been a wonder to me that since these findings [regarding CTE and professional football players] have come out, that more discussion on this topic hasn't become a focus.”

The psychology faculty member said the brain sits in a series of membranes and fluid, which suspend it, allowing it to accommodate movement. The membranes provide a soft cradle, he said. “But just like the poem, cradles fall and strong blows to the head cause the brain to move too quickly, too forcefully for the delicate structure holding it, and slam into the inside of the skull,” Wolfe said. Tissue damage is a result.

“Essentially, we’re talking about damaging the most important part of our bodies,” Wolfe said.

This month, the brain scan of former New England Patriots and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, showed he had a severe form of the degenerative brain disease. Hernandez, a convicted murderer who was accused in two other killings, recently committed suicide in prison at the age of 27. His estate filed a federal lawsuit against the NFL and the Patriots, saying the team knew that the repeated hits to the head could result in brain disease.

“The connection to young children playing football is that that is exactly where each of these men started,” Wolfe said of the 110 former NFL players who researchers found to have CTE. “Thirty, 40 years of head trauma results in significant, degenerative brain trauma.”

Read more at http://polls.saintleo.edu.