Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Football Nanny State

In his 2012 book "Concussions and Our Kids," Boston University neurosurgeon Robert Cantu left little mystery about his tome's intended target: The photo on the cover shows a pack of little kids playing tackle football. Inside its pages, a section heading says: "No tackle football before fourteen."

As the Super Bowl approaches Sunday, this point of view has become an increasingly trendy one. The talk in New Orleans this week, even by some players, has revolved around whether this collision-centric sport can survive without drastic change. And a growing number of people inside and outside the sport are pushing the debate toward children. "If I had a son," President Barack Obama told the New Republic this week, "I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football."

Recent studies performed on former longtime NFL players have left no doubt that playing professional football can be hazardous to one's brain—and one's future quality of life. But when it comes to the question of whether the sport is dangerous for kids, it's not that the evidence is inconclusive—there's no evidence whatsoever.

The Mayo Clinic has performed two studies on football and kids. In 2002, after examining 915 football players from elementary and middle schools, it concluded: "the risk of injury in youth football does not appear greater than other recreational or competitive sports." Last year, the Mayo Clinic studied 438 men who played high-school football between 1946 and 1956, when headgear was less advanced. That study found no increased risk of dementia, Parkinson's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease among these players compared with their non-football-playing male classmates.

The lack of data isn't a secret: In his book about kids and concussions, Cantu, the neurosurgeon, acknowledged that there aren't enough data to say anything about the long-term effects of football on "these little ones."

When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was asked about the issue this week, he took a different view than many other experts and observers. "They're a bunch of 50-pound or 140-pound kids," he said. "I don't know how much damage they're actually doing to each other."
Football's a rough sport. It's our gladiators. Take away the danger and it won't be the same. Better helmets and stuff? Sure. Rules against above the shoulder tackles and all that? No doubt. But if the left's pussies turn the NFL into a professional flag football freak show, we're doomed.