Greg Powers’ Take
This is a fun and highly debatable question. I have two sons. One I allowed to play in the first grade and one that I did not allow to play until the seventh grade. So as a parent I would advise that you evaluate each of your son’s abilities and attitude and go from there.
I can tell you that my youngest son (now a 6th grader) plays in the Frisco Football League, which is the largest youth league in the country. The league also features an Air Assault or seven-on-seven option. But if you were to ask me I would say that the best way to go if you are going to allow your son to play would be in the full contact league. That is just my opinion, but I feel like injuries or concussions could happen at a higher rate in the seven-on league (no helmet).
I feel that the padded league is actually less of an injury concern, because of the pads. The speed of the game is comparable.
Also, now with all of the concussion awareness I feel like youth coaches, middle school coaches and high school coaches are much more concussion aware and proper techniques are being implemented at young age. Players are being taught how to employ the ‘Heads Up’ technique and being taught proper tackling techniques to help avoid or limit concussions.
If you ask me the best way to avoid concussion is learning the proper way to hit and be hit and using the safest and highest rated helmets for protection. The earlier you can start to learn the techniques and implement them the better.
Jason Higdon’s Take
I don’t think you can live life being scared of what may or may not happen.
People get hurt walking down the street, driving cars, riding bikes and playing various other sports.
If any of my children would like to try something within reason we are going to let them try it and see if they like it. By within reason I mean something other than skydiving.
Life is too short to play or live scared. If you live that way I guess there is no reason to ever get behind the wheel of a car.
Annabel Stephan’s Take
Kids aren't in my immediate plan, so I'm hoping by the time they would be old enough to play, some sort of magical helmet will be invented that prevents concussions and head injuries.
This is a really hard question. As a hypothetical, it's easy for me to say yes. After all, this is Texas and Texas and football are obviously synonymous and that starts with peewee football. There's a risk that comes with pretty much everything; that's just a part of life.
On the other hand, I could feel completely different if I did have real life kids I was talking about and their safety was a concern.
What's happening to players is scary. It's also heartbreaking to see a kid like David Ash talk about how much he loved football his whole life and now has to give it up (and rightly so) for his health. The issue is one that keeps coming to light, but I'm hopeful that the NFL will spend more time and money really investigating and researching the severity of head injuries and the impact they have on players in the future.
Yes, football is awesome, but it's not worth shaving years off of your life.
Gabe Brooks’ Take
First off, I don't have kids, so I imagine people with children can answer this question better than I.
That said, I'll give it a shot.
Head injuries and long-term effects of trauma to the brain are certainly startling issues that the sport as a whole must deal with for the foreseeable future. Most fans -- me included -- often tire of the seemingly oversensitive/overreactive nature of on-field policing of what used to be dismissed as "physical" play, but there's a reason they're calling all of that now. The more you think about it, the harder it is to blame them considering all that's been learned about the long-term effects of some of these injuries.
As for the question at hand: I've never thought kids younger than eighth grade should play football. Honestly, eighth grade may be too young. Freshman ball might be the earliest that I'm really OK with it from a physical maturity standpoint.
I understand why junior high ball exists. It serves a meaningful purpose for the varsity programs for which those players eventually suit up. But so-called "Pee Wee" football -- with kids as young as 5 (!) playing tackle football -- is something I've never thought was a good idea. In the event that I have children at some point, they won't be allowed to play that, though I will let them play school-oriented football if they so choose.
Concussions/brain trauma aren't the only reasons. The orthopedic injuries young kids suffer sometimes prematurely end athletic careers, not just in football, but other sports the kids play. At some point, you can't shelter your kid from every potential injury if the kid wants to participate in sports, but I think preventing kids younger than 13 from playing contact sports is a good idea.
Nick Castillo’s Take
The news of David Ash’s retirement from football due to concussions sheds light on an ongoing discussion about head injuries in football.
The realization in this discussion is that football, a game loved by many in America, is not as safe as what we once thought. Injuries sustained while playing football, especially head injuries, have serious repercussions.
That being said, I believe most injuries that happen in football are due to a lack of basic football fundamentals. If given the opportunity to teach my kid the proper fundamentals of football, I believe I would allow them to play the game.
Football and sports in general provide kids with an opportunity to learn responsibility, learn what it’s like to work as a team and helps build character. If my child said they wanted to play football, I wouldn’t stop them. I, however, wouldn’t allow them to play until junior high because they would be more developed at that age and would have a chance to better understand how to play the game safely.
While I wouldn’t stop my child from playing football, if they sustained a concussion I would consider preventing them from continuing to play.
Chip Brown’s Take
If my son loved football, I would absolutely let him play. But parents of youth football players need to be more involved in making sure their kids are getting proper coaching.
They need to make sure the coaches are teaching all the "heads up" tackling techniques being pushed by USA Football and the NFL. And parents need to make sure their kids are not being coached by some macho hothead having 12-year olds doing high-impact, contact drills. If that's happening, get your kid out of there.
I talked about this with Drew Brees when I covered Brees' induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
Brees said he wouldn't allow his kids to take part in tackle football until they are in 8th grade and their bodies are more developed.
I'm with Brees. He would know.
I hope parents get more involved in making sure their kids aren't taking needless shots to the head in practice before they reach their teen-age years.
William Wilkerson’s Take
Whenever I have kids I will let them play tackle football but not until at least seventh or eight grade.
And before they do join their middle school teams I’ll definitely be taking them to a non-contact football camp where the art of proper tackling is not only taught, but stressed. I went to several of those when I was growing up and always felt like they were beneficial. I’ve definitely got a few loose screws but otherwise feel like I turned out alright.
Nobody knows kids better than their parents. If you feel like their bodies are mature enough and feel like you’ve done everything you can to give your child the best chance to stay concussion free, however out of their hands it might actually be, then I don’t see an issue with letting them play in their middle teenage years.
But you’ve got to make sure they understand the proper tackling techniques and also the dangers of what can happen if they aren’t tackling the right way.