Poll: Americans are worried about CTE, want NFL to stop recruiting children to tackle football

71% of Americans believe it is inappropriate for the NFL to recruit children to tackle football 

(Boston) - A new national poll conducted by the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics in collaboration with the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF) found that because of CTE concerns, 71% of the 1,311 Americans polled believe it is inappropriate for the NFL to recruit children to tackle football.

According to official funding announcements, the NFL has spent more than $100 million to recruit children to youth tackle football since 2000, and the Super Bowl often features advertisements focused on recruiting children and their parents through brands like NFL Play Football.

“When he started playing tackle football in fourth grade his dream was the NFL,” said Greg Tuerk, father of former NFL and USC offensive lineman Max Tuerk, who died in 2020 at age 26 after struggling with severe mental health challenges. “He was so proud to achieve that dream, but we believe it cost him his mental health.”

After his death, researchers at the Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank diagnosed Tuerk with stage 1 CTE.

“To all my former colleagues at the NFL: please stop recruiting young children to play tackle football,” said Pro Football Hall of Fame member Mike Haynes, also a former NFL Vice President of Player and Employee Development. “If children wait until age 15 to play tackle football like I did, future football players will have a dramatically lower risk of CTE and will lose nothing in terms of developing the skills that could one day provide them a career playing professional football. It’s the right thing to do.”

The poll also revealed that 69% of former tackle football players, and 77% of Americans overall, support state governments banning tackle football for children before age 12. Since 2018, bills have been introduced in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and California to ban youth tackle football, but none have yet succeeded.

A 2019 study of 266 deceased former football players from the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank found the more years one plays football, the greater their odds of developing CTE. Odds increase by 30% per year played, meaning they double every 2.5 years. As of 2021, sixteen of the first 65 high school football players studied at the Brain Bank have been diagnosed with CTE.

More Americans than ever are now worried about CTE in football. 93% of those surveyed believe CTE is “certainly or probably” a serious public health issue. That number has increased from 87% in a prior poll conducted in 2016.

Other findings include:
•    72% of Americans believe tackle football should not be introduced until at least age 14.
•    Respondents were concerned about informed consent for children. 77% of respondents believed NFL players are “well-educated on the long-term risks associated with repeated head trauma, such as CTE.” However, that number drops to 41% for high-school football players and 27% of youth football players.

Those surveyed agreed it is primarily the responsibility of parents to ensure children are protected from CTE, yet only 31% agree that parents are well-educated on the risk of CTE. The family of Max Tuerk wants to make educating parents across the country a priority.

“Now that the risks are well documented and we know the potential consequences, we need to educate parents about the risks associated with playing tackle football before high school,” said Greg Tuerk.

The poll of 1,311 American adults was conducted by the Center for Sports Analytics at Samford University. The Concussion Legacy Foundation assisted in developing the questions and provided funding support. Participants for the study were selected by conducting a random and demographically balanced sample of adults in the United States. Qualtrics was used to develop and administer the poll. Data collection began in September 2020 and continued for one year. More information on the poll methodology and polling data are available here.

About The Center for Sports Analytics at Samford University:
The Center for Sports Analytics at Samford University promotes the ethically centered, rational inquiry into issues at the burgeoning intersection of big data, analytics, and sports. It seeks to be an international thought leader in the emerging field of sports analytics by providing a forum for industry professionals and students to learn about the increasing role of analytics in the global sports industry. The center’s mission encompasses all areas where analytics impacts sports, including fan engagement, sponsorship, player tracking, sports medicine, sports media and operations.

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