Pro Football Hall of Famers to parents: Flag Football the only choice for children under 14

Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Pro Football Hall of Famers to parents: Flag Football the only choice for children under 14

(New York, NY) – The Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF) announced today the launch of Flag Football Under 14, a program to educate parents on the benefits of waiting to enroll their child in tackle football until age 14. The announcement was made at a press conference by CLF co-founders Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. and Robert Cantu, M.D., and supporters including Pro Football Hall of Famers Nick Buoniconti and Harry Carson, and Oakland Raiders legend Phil Villapiano.

“This education program for parents is inspired by the last decade of research on CTE, which has revealed that the best way to prevent CTE in football players is to delay enrolling in tackle football until 14,” said Robert Cantu, M.D., medical director of CLF.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s disease that has been found in over 85 percent of tackle football players studied in the last decade.

“To parents who want their children to experience football, they should not play tackle football until 14,” said Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and New York Giants legend Harry Carson. “I did not play tackle football until high school, and I will not allow my grandson to play until 14, as I believe it is not an appropriate sport for young children.”

Many of the NFL’s greatest all time players did not play tackle football until 14, including the top five all-time greatest NFL players: Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Walter Payton and Tom Brady. They, along with Carson, are members of the Flag Football Under 14 All-Time Greatest Team, composed entirely of players who did not start tackle football until high school. CLF researched and created the team to illustrate that waiting until 14 doesn’t hurt a child’s ability to become an NFL legend, and with the inclusion of the top five all-time players, it appears waiting may help.

“I made a mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, the middle linebacker for the legendary 17-0 1972 Miami Dolphins, who suffers from dementia and has been diagnosed with probable CTE. “Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward.”

“As much as this is about CTE science, it’s also about common sense,” said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., CEO of CLF. “We cannot overstate the absurdity of allowing 7-year-olds to receive 500 head impacts a season just because they happen to be getting exercise at the time.”

The launch of Flag Football Under 14 came hours after a new study published in Brain revealed that head impacts, even in the absence of concussion, trigger the degenerative disease CTE.

“Based on everything we know about CTE, Flag Football Under 14 makes overwhelming scientific sense,” said Lee Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor at Boston University School of Medicine and College of Engineering and principal investigator of the Brain study. “We will never prevent CTE by focusing on concussions. Any meaningful prevention campaign has to focus on preventing all hits to the head, including subconcussive impacts.”

More information on Flag Football Under 14 can be found at The site includes a white paper with supporting information and an infographic explaining why age 14 was selected, with evidence focused on biological disadvantages for children and the lack of protections for players in tackle football prior to high school.

“I watched my teammate Ken Stabler deteriorate and die from CTE,” said Oakland Raiders legend Phil Villapiano. “At some point those us who have had success in this game must speak up to protect both football players and the future of the game, and supporting Flag Football Under 14 is our best way to do that.”

About Nick Buoniconti:
Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, playing 14 seasons for the Boston Patriots and Miami Dolphins, winning two Super Bowls. He became a successful businessman and philanthropist, and co-hosted HBO’s Inside the NFL.

About Harry Carson: 
Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame inside linebacker who played 13 seasons for the New York Giants. A 9-time Pro Bowler, Carson led the Giants to victory as their lone captain in Super Bowl XXI.

About Phil Villapiano:
Phil Villapiano is a former NFL linebacker best remembered as a star of the Oakland Raiders Super Bowl XI winning team. A 13 year pro, he was AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1971 and played in four Pro Bowls.

About Lee Goldstein:
Lee Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, Radiology, Ophthalmology, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, and Electrical & Computer Engineering at Boston University School of Medicine and College of Engineering. He directs the Boston University Neurotrauma Laboratory and is Senior Investigator at the NIH-NIA Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease and CTE Center. 

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