Research shows CTE risk from contact football for kids under 12

A new study indicates that kids who play contact football before age 12 may suffer problems like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) years earlier than other kids do.

The research, from Boston University's School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System, is sounding a warning for parents of young football players, after studying the brains of almost 250 football players.

"There is a recommendation that children under the age of 14 shouldn't play tackle football," said Ann McKee, a senior author of the study. "This paper would provide some support for that."

Eleven-year-old Rowen Ball is a soccer player. But the sport wasn't his first choice.

Rowen's dad, Jason Ball, said, "When he turned eight or nine, he really, really wanted to play full-contact football. Just couldn't let him do that."

Rowen already had two concussions, and his dad didn't want to risk him suffering more.

"I understood most of it, because my dad would explain it a lot to me when I always asked him if I could play. Which was a lot," Rowen shared.

In a new study out of Boston, researchers examined the brains of 246 football players - and 211 of them had CTE. They found that those who started playing football before age 12 increased their risk of CTE.

Researcher Michael Alosco said, "That younger age of first exposure appears to increase vulnerability to the effects of CTE and other brain diseases, meaning it influences when cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms begin."

Dr. Vernon B. Williams, a sports neurologist, is the director for the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic. He says parents shouldn't draw conclusions prematurely.

"I don't ignore this information, but I think it's only a piece of the information, and it needs to be considered in the context of the bigger picture. And in the context of what we don't yet know," Dr. Williams said.

Williams adds today's players have better helmets and safety measures than players in the study did.

Still, Jason doesn't regret keeping Rowen out of contact football.

"I love my boys, and I want them to have the same quality of life they have now as they do in their 40s and in their 60s." Jason explained.

Michael Alosco also points out that while this is a single study, kids whose brains are developing shouldn't be hitting their heads repeatedly. He also says parents should make sure that their kids' coaches are minimizing risk and repeated hits to the head. And parents and their kids should know the signs of concussion.
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