Two University of Minnesota doctors are recommending that the nation’s schools eliminate football, reducing the pressure on children to engage in a sport riddled with concussions.
Dr. Steven Miles said an outright ban on youth football would be unrealistic. But he is among the first to recommend removing football from schools, where the pressure of school spirit or being the only kid big enough to play nose guard can rope players into a sport in which 5 percent to 20 percent of players suffer concussions each season.
“If you went to nonschool leagues, those types of coercive pressures would end,” he said.
Miles, a bioethics professor, and Dr. Shailendra Prasad reviewed studies on football-related concussions for their statement, which is online and will appear in the American Journal of Bioethics.
They disagreed with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent call to preserve tackle football while increasing flag football and noncontact alternatives. They called the group “optimistically speculative” in its belief that neck strengthening exercises and other approaches can reduce concussions without major changes to the game.
“For the Academy of Pediatrics to place the health interests of kids against the design of a sport just seemed quite amazing,” Miles said.
Concussion rates are also high in hockey, but the U doctors argued that football merits action because it has so many more players.
Miles said schools fail to warn athletes of concussion risks with consent forms that read like “negligence waivers for a roller coaster,” and justify participation with statements such as “everything in life has risks.”
Miles, who has studied war crimes and torture, is surprised he hasn’t received more criticism, considering how Friday night varsity games are embedded in American culture.
“This one is turning out to be the most widely accepted paper, in terms of the comments I’m getting back, that I’ve ever written,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean it will go anywhere, but I think people are looking for a solution to the concussion/school football player issue that does not involve something as difficult as banning the sport.”