USA Football, the national administrative body for amateur football, announced on Jan. 31 that it will introduce new rules to the game in order to create safer regulations for children who are involved in the sport. Numerous parents expressed concerns about the sport being too dangerous for children to play and implored that it be revamped.
The organization will implement these regulations within a limited number of leagues in a series of trials later this year. The rules will include a smaller playing field that will span 40 yards by 35 yards, a seven-player limit on the field, no special teams and authorized position rotations. Coaches will be mandated to line up athletes of similar size together and two coaches will be permitted on the field to manage plays and direct athletes.
These critical actions result from alarming research that confirms just how harmful football can be to any player. Jeff Miller, senior vice president for health and safety to the NFL, admitted to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Jan. 31 that there is a direct correlation between head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy induced by vigorous play in football.
This was the first time an NFL executive acknowledged football’s relationship with the detrimental brain disease CTE. The NFL executive sourced his data from Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who identified CTE in 176 athletes, including 90 out of 94 former NFL players, 45 out of 55 college players and six out of 26 high school players.
Medical professionals added that constant staggering jolts can curb the growth of a child’s brain. It is hazardous for linemen to endure frequent punches on almost every play from scrimmage because the impacts affect their lifelong health. Investigators noted that college and professional athletes who begin playing tackle football at a young age have a higher prospect of exhibiting thinking and memory problems as they age.
Participation in the sport has declined as a result. The number of boys aged 6 to 12 playing tackle football has diminished by almost 20 percent since 2009. Schools in Maine, Missouri and New Jersey have abandoned their tackle football programs altogether because of lingering questions regarding safety and a scarcity of athletes.
USA Football’s adjustments will be instrumental in combatting injury. Football is one of the nation’s most beloved sports with a devoted fan base. Athletes deserve the opportunity to safely play the sport that they enjoy. The well-being of young athletes should also be protected and these rules are ultimately a step in the right direction.