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Should tackle football be banned until high school?




Warren Sapp announced Tuesday that he will donate his brain to concussion researchers after his death.

Beyond the headline, Sapp said something else interesting: He wants to eliminate tackle football until high school.

That idea is one that came up in conversations during our recent reporting for this story on the flag/tackle debate in youth football. The group Practice like Pros proposes keeping tackle football in high school but not until then. Middle schoolers would begin learning how to play tackle through weight training, neck strengthening and limited contact so they're prepared once they reach ninth grade.

"You don't need contact football at that level to play at the highest level..." said Terry O'Neil, Practice Like Pros' founder and a former New Orleans Saints executive. "You don't want to start the head trauma at the age of 5, as often happens in this country. You want to delay it as long as you can."

I floated the idea to some people during my reporting. Their thoughts:

Gregg Easterbrook, author of The Game's Not Over: In Defense of Football. He advocates holding off on tackle football until middle school. "If we could outlaw it, I think it should be outlawed. ... The sort of routine harm to people's brains and neurology would mainly, not entirely, be eliminated. I think the sport would be just as great as ever. You don't have to play tackle football before the age of 12 to be a good player."

Former Bucs and Gators defensive lineman Brad Culpepper: "I think it's a fantastic rule. First of all, have you ever gone and watched a 5, 6, 7, 10-year-olds go play football? It's terrible. I'm talking about tackle. But go watch some 10-year-olds go play flag football. Those guys can bring it. ... I never played tackle football until I was in high school, 9th grade. My sons never played tackle football until they were 12, and 7th grade. It's gotten to be now that you kind of need to get into it maybe a little before high school so you kind of understand hitting and to see if they even like it or not. ... but they played flag football from six years old to 12, competitive."

Former Florida State and NFL defensive lineman Derrick Alexander: "Absolutely not. God has given all of us gifts. Football is one of them. ... Some things do happen, but at the same time, it's a beautiful game. It takes skill to be able to go out there and compete and do the things these kids do and grown men do on a daily basis. ... On the childhood level, you've got kids watching the NFL and college. They aspire to be like some of those players. They work hard, as well. Sometimes things happen, but at the same time, you've got to look at the beauty of the game and what it brings."

Shelton Crews, executive director of the Florida Athletic Coaches Association: "I think they need to start doing something for them prior to middle school. I would say a year before middle school...I think you have to reach a happy medium on it all, which some groups are really wanting to do as opposed to probably what can be done."

Pasco High School coach Tom McHugh: "Waiting all the way until 12 years old? That's too long. Maybe 9, just to get them used to it...When they get to middle school, and they get coaches that (incorrectly) teach them to head hunt - now I'm strong, and I'm lifting weights, and I'm head hunting..."

Lisa McHale, director of family relations at the Concussion Legacy Foundation. "To me, it's an absolute must. Why wouldn't they do this? It certainly seems to me to be very common sense."

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 21, 2017 10:35am]


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