The future of football: Flag

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The future of football: Flag

Laurel Comiter, Lifestyle Editor

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Throughout their lives, children are taught to weigh the risks associated with anything they choose to do. Yet sports, and football in particular, have long been an exception to this thought process. While football may be one of the most beloved and popular sports in the United States, it has brought with it dangers to young, professional players that could easily have been avoided. The high entertainment value of tackle football is undeniable, but with it comes destructive and permanent injury, high financial costs and poor skill-development.

Like most athletes, tackle football players are at a risk of sustaining many different injuries. Athletes who play tackle football specifically are at a high risk for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that initially manifests itself in personality changes, but can progress to cause depression, impulsivity, aggression, memory and cognitive changes and ultimately dementia. A post-mortem study conducted by Boston University showed that 110 out of 111 brains of former National Football League (NFL) players who were studied had evidence of the degenerative brain disease.
Fatal brain injuries occur at the high school level as well. Recently, a high school football player from Georgia died a few days after sustaining a head injury from a collision during a game. He was airlifted to a hospital, where he underwent two surgeries to relieve brain swelling. He died shortly after.

Several other sports have set regulations regarding the level of contact allowed, but football seems far behind on this trend. Whereas USA Hockey has banned checking until age 13 and USA Soccer has banned heading until age 11, the American Football League has allowed young players to give and take hundreds of hits in a single season. Even former players such as Mike Ditka, John Madden, Jim McMahon, Harry Carson, Nick Buoniconti and Brett Favre, who hope to keep the sport of tackle football alive, are in agreement that there should be age limitations on tackle football.

Flag football is a safer alternative to tackle football because it places a greater emphasis on skill development, with less physical contact than tackle football. With flag football, younger athletes in particular have the benefit of learning the skills necessary for football without the fear of getting hit and injured as they might in tackle football. Playing flag football can also improve a player’s tackling skills later on because it requires greater skill to de-flag the opposing player than it takes to tackle. Teaching youth flag football before they transition to tackle football will reinforce safer play styles, where contact and power are not the end-all-be-all, as technique and strategy are key traits of a football athlete.

Additionally, tackle football is considered one of the most expensive sports to play because of the added costs of all of the protective equipment. Youth helmets range from $70 to $270, shoulder pads cost anywhere from $35 to $135, jerseys cost $25 to $45, thigh, knee and hip pads cost $15 to $70, cleats cost $35 to $70, youth socks cost around $6, pants cost $30 to $60 and a youth belt costs around $5. Flag football, on the other hand, requires very little equipment. All that is required is a jersey, cleats and a waist flag.

While tackle football is undeniably entertaining and a culturally valued sport in America, flag football is a much safer and cheaper alternative, especially for young players. Flag football emphasizes skills lost amidst tackling, and is financially feasible for more people than tackle football. Flag football is built on the same concepts as tackle football, but in a way that places greater emphasis on skill rather than size or bulk. Flag football will prevent countless players from sustaining the life-threatening injuries that tackle football has long ignored.