A new study of retired NFL players concludes that retirees who started playing tackle football before the age of 12 had a higher risk of experiencing cognitive issues throughout their lives, according to The New York Times.
The study, conducted by Boston University researchers and published by the journal Neurology, found that ex-NFL players who started playing football before age 12 "performed significantly worse" than those who started playing after age 12 on various tests. All 42 players who participated in the study had experienced some sort of cognitive problems for at least six months, and half of that group started playing tackle football before the age of 12.
Children who sustain head injuries are more susceptible to long-term brain damage, research has shown.
From the New York Times report:
“Being hit in the head repeatedly through tackle football during a critical time in brain development may be associated with later life cognitive difficulties,” said Dr. Robert Stern, the senior author of the study, who teaches at the Boston University School of Medicine. “The take home message is, the earlier you start, the more issues you may have.”
The study only dealt with NFL retirees, meaning that the data is not applicable to non-NFL players who started playing football before age 12. But Stern told The New York Times that football players of all ages and levels should take note of the study's findings.
"It makes logical sense that kids during a time of rapid brain development should not be exposed to hit after hit after hit to their head,” he said. “To me, it is logical. The brain is our most important organ. The idea of dropping kids off at a field during a very important period of maturation and fostering hit after hit after hit, it doesn’t make sense to me personally.”
- Stanley Kay