LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- As football season approaches, there is more reason for parents to worry about letting their children play. The largest study of its kind shows how common brain disease is among former players.
According to a study led by researchers from Boston University, nearly all of the deceased NFL players whose brains were examined showed signs of CTE, a disease that causes memory loss and changes to mood and behavior. Additionally, a majority of the former college players and some of the former high school players whose brains were tested showed that they were affected by CTE.
The study’s results may be inflated because the families that participated may have already seen symptoms of brain disease while the players were alive. But it furthers a difficult discussion about how and when to let children play contact sports.
“I think, in this day and age, I think it’s better to have, to come in at a later period instead of an earlier period,” Ivan Pomare said, “so I think anything from 8 on, which is better.”
Pomare, a world-renowned rugby coach, said he started playing the game when he was five years old, living in New Zealand, but he does not believe that is a safe thing for parents to allow.
“When they get to the age of 10,” he explained, “their bodies have developed a little bit more, and they’re more aware of defense coming towards them. So, they sort of put their bodies in a different position to take the impact of a tackle, which is really important.”
Concerns about player safety have led to declining participation in youth football. Rugby is one of the sports to have benefitted, but Pomare said that is just one reason children are switching sports.
“I’ve heard stories about, in terms of football, where you can be a player, but you don’t touch the ball,” he mentioned. “So, we’re offering a sport here where everyone who’s a player touches the ball.”
Pomare is spending the summer in Little Rock running clinics for the American Rugby Pro Training Center. One camp he is leading is in touch rugby for children aged 5-15.
“They’re starting to latch onto it,” he claimed. “We’ve got people that travel three hours to drive here, just to come and do it. I mean, they bring their kids here.”
Pomare, who has coached national touch rugby teams in New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, said many people play the tackle-free version all their lives. He sees touch rugby as a great way to introduce a player to the sport, and thinks touch or flag football would be a good option for younger children, as well.
“We’re giving them all the skills prior to contact,” he stated, “so if they make a decision to carry on and become a rugby player, and play contact, they have the smarts—smarter thinking skills—of how to release the ball before contact.”