UMass Lowell survey shocker: Despite the NFL being America’s most popular pro sport, 4 out of 5 oppose tackle football before age 14

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BOSTON – A new poll issued Wednesday by UMass Lowell shows that after a decade of awareness efforts, Americans are hearing the message about the dangers of concussions and CTE, and a surprising majority no longer think tackle football is appropriate for children prior to high school. Four out of five American adults, including 72 percent of men, do not believe tackle football is appropriate for children under age 14. Eighty-seven percent of adults believe that brain trauma that results in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a serious public health issue.

The survey was conducted independently by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and asked a representative sample of 1,000 American adults about their attitudes surrounding sports safety, head injuries, and the public health implications of concussions and CTE.  Full poll results and methodology are available here. Notable highlights include:

  • The vast majority of Americans do not believe tackle football is appropriate for children.
    • Four in five Americans (79 percent) do not think tackle football is appropriate for children before age 14. Nine in 10 (91 percent) do not believe tackle football is appropriate before age 10. The group supported football for adults - only 20 percent polled thought football was not appropriate for adults age 18 and over.
    • Among women, opposition to youth tackle football is the strongest – 84 percent oppose tackle football before the age of 14 and 94 percent oppose tackle football before the age of 10.
    • While opposition to youth football is often discussed as a “mom issue,” opposition is also strong among men. Seventy-two percent of men oppose tackle football prior to the age of 14 and 88 percent before age 10.
  • A significant majority of Americans, three in five, don’t believe that heading the ball in soccer is safe before high school.
    • 60 percent say that it is either certainly false (14 percent) or probably false (46 percent) that heading the ball in soccer is safe for children before they reach high school.
  • Eighty-seven percent of Americans think brain trauma that results in CTE is a serious public health issue.

“These survey results show that nearly all adults agree that forcing a child to play a game where they are hit in the head a few hundred times a year is not an appropriate activity,” said Chris Nowinski, president and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “No child should have to trade life lessons for concussions and an increased risk of CTE. We can teach without trauma.”

“We consider this strong public consensus a broad mandate to continue to advocate for changes to youth sports, and we will continue to recommend to parents that before age 14 they choose flag football rather than tackle football and delay heading in soccer,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder and medical director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.”

There are an estimated 2.1 million children under the age of 14 playing tackle football each year, and 8 million youth soccer players. The Concussion Legacy Foundation launched the Safer Soccer campaign in 2014 to delay the introduction of heading in soccer until age 14, in collaboration with dozens of organizations and experts including soccer leaders such as Brandi Chastain, Cindy Parlow-Cone and Taylor Twellman. In November, 17 months later, US Soccer changed its heading guidelines for youth soccer, eliminating headers for players under 11 and limiting headers for ages 11 to 13.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation collaborates with the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University (BU) on the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, which has revolutionized our understanding of CTE. Researchers at the Brain Bank have found CTE in the brains of 90 of 94 former NFL players studied for the disease. The disease has also been diagnosed in 44 of 55 former college football players, and 6 of 26 who only played football through high school. Since its inception in 2008, the brain bank has become the first repository to discover CTE in athletes from ice hockey, soccer, rugby, college and high school football, and baseball.

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