Student Well-Being

Poll: Youth-Football Head Injuries a Concern for 1 in 3 Americans

By Bryan Toporek — October 24, 2013 2 min read
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Roughly one in three Americans said they’re less likely to allow their children to play football due to what they know about football-related head injuries and long-term brain damage, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

For the HBO Real Sports/Marist poll, 1,204 adults were surveyed by telephone about their views on the potential safety risks involved with youth football. Thirty-nine percent of the survey respondents had children under the age of 18, including 23 percent with a son 18 years or younger. Nineteen percent had a child who had been seriously injured while playing a team sport.

When asked about their level of knowledge regarding “the connection between concussions from playing football and long-term brain injury,” 55 percent of the respondents said they knew “a good amount” or “a great deal,” with an additional 31 percent saying they knew “a little.” Only 14 percent knew “nothing at all,” which should encourage youth-safety advocates preaching the importance of educating the public about sports-related concussions.

According to the survey, 13 percent of U.S. adults wouldn’t let their sons participate in football, while 85 percent would. (The remaining 2 percent are unsure.) This varied based upon region, with adults in the Northeast least likely to allow their sons play football (81 percent would allow it; 18 percent wouldn’t) and adults in the South the most likely (86 percent would, 12 percent wouldn’t).

Below, you can explore those findings in chart form:


Thirty-three percent of adults said that the information coming out about the link between concussions and long-term brain damage made them less likely to allow their sons to play football. Once more, adults in the Northeast and West were more swayed by such information (38 percent and 37 percent, respectively, were less likely to allow their sons to play) than those in the South and Midwest (31 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

For 16 percent of Americans, the risk of long-term brain injury would be the deciding factor in whether or not to allow their son to play football, according to the survey. Fifty-six percent of adults said it would be one of the factors that influenced their decision, while the remaining 28 percent said it would play no role in their decision.

Additionally, roughly one in five adults said the risk of injury is too high to allow boys to play football, the survey found.

“What will be interesting to watch is if other sports begin to recruit those kids whose parents keep them from football,” said Dr. Keith Strudler, the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication, in the survey. “Football’s loss could be the inevitable gain of lacrosse, baseball, or even soccer.”

ESPN’s Henry Abbott touched upon that possibility on Wednesday in the TrueHoop blog.

Basically, the biggest force in the history of sports business—the NFL—has had a kind of 'black swan' event—a permanent change nobody could have seen coming. There's a fracture, suddenly, between football, its players and its fans. The numbers are coming in, and you have to wonder if the coming decades really will bring radical reformation of the sports landscape."

At the high school level, there hasn’t yet been a massive decline in the number of boys playing football.

A total of 1,086,627 boys participated in high school football during the 2012-13 school year, according to the latest annual High School Sports Participation survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations, compared to 1,095,993 boys during the prior school year. That’s a decline of fewer than 10,000 student-athletes, or less than 1 percent of the total high-school-football-playing population.

As more information spills into the public consciousness, however, it’s worth keeping an eye on these youth-football participation figures to see if any major trends emerge in the coming years.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.