A Jarring New PSA Compares The Dangers Of Kids Playing Football To Smoking

by Leah Groth

A new PSA urges parents to wait until their kids are 14 before signing them up for tackle football

Over the last few decades, tackle football has come under serious fire, mostly due to the high level of concussions that occur on the field. As the number of reported cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease found in people who have had multiple head injuries, have been revealed, many parents have been rethinking signing their children up for tackle football.

This week, a no B.S. PSA was released by the Concussion Legacy Foundation on the topic. It likens the potential long-term damage the sport can have on children to children smoking cigarettes.

In the short but jarring video, a group of young children are in the midst of a game of football. After a tackle, the coach congratulates the team on their performance and hands out cigarettes to all. As they exhale smoke, a child’s voice explains, “Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn’t let me smoke. When should I start tackling?” During the montage, a smiling mom lights up her son’s cigarette.

The PSA is part of the “Tackle Can Wait” campaign, a movement set forth by two daughters of former NFL players who both were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths. Rebecca Carpenter, whose father was Lew Carpenter, and Angela Harrison, the daughter of college football player Joe Campigotto. They are trying to encourage parents to hold off signing their kids up for tackle football until they are at least 14, to reduce the risk of CTE.

According to a recent study published in the Annals of Neurology, it isn’t how many concussions an individual suffers that impacts the severity of CTE. Instead, it is the number of years playing football that matters. Researchers concluded that the risk of CTE doubles for every 2.6 years of play. In other words, if someone starts playing tackle football at the age of five, by the time they are in high school their risk of developing CTE is 10 times higher than someone who puts off flag football until the age of 14.

Why the comparison to smoking? Co-author of the study, Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO, Chris Nowinski, believes that putting age restrictions on flag football – just like age restrictions on cigarettes — could reduce the risk of CTE by about half. While 14 isn’t a magic number, he explained to CNN that research has shown that children who get brain injuries before the age of 12 recover much more slowly. Also, children’s bodies aren’t ready to withstand head hits as a result of tackle football.

Signing your kid up for contact sports might not be the same as handing them a pack of smokes. However, this new PSA is certainly thought-provoking in terms of how we need to approach the future of tackle football. Twenty years ago, we didn’t understand the potential brain damage that football could inflict. Now we do. Maybe it is time to change the direction of the sport — at least at the childhood level.