Youth tackle football declining amid health concerns

Football and brain problems

Last Updated Sep 20, 2017 8:03 PM EDT

A new study from Boston University found that playing tackle football before the age of 12 dramatically increases the risk of brain problems later in life. 

Many moms and dads have already blown the whistle on the sport. 

Parents in Highland Park, Illinois, didn't need a new academic study to tell them tackle football is too big a risk for their kids. 

The Park District cancelled it's tackle program for fifth to eighth graders this fall when only 11 boys showed up to play -- down from 34 last year and 55 the year before, according to Liza McElroy, the executive director. 

"In our heyday, we had probably roughly 150 to 200 kids playing football," McElroy said. 

The reason for the decline is no mystery to her.

"You see so much in the media right now about concussions and traumatic brain injury," McElroy said. 

A new study shows that playing tackle football before the age of 12 dramatically increases the risk of brain problems later in life. CBS News

Underscoring the worries, some high schools in Missouri, Maine and New Jersey have cancelled or cut short their football seasons. Squads in Michigan are depleted due to lack of interest. 

"As a parent, you might think, 'Gee, do I really want to expose my child to this,'" McElroy said. "And so, I think they have to make tough decisions and tackle football is something that parents have said, 'We don't want to take the risk.'" 

Nationwide, youth tackle football has been declining for much of the last decade, down 20 percent since 2009, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.  

Lisa Lew helped persuade her 12-year-old son, Dylan, to drop tackle football in favor of increasingly popular flag football "because of the concerns about injuries, especially concussions." 

She still likes the traditional game, just not for her son. 

"I think at this point, we're still not on board until they can prevent, do something to make it a safer game," Lew said. 

What that means for the future of football is unclear. But it can't be a good thing for the game when more and more parents have concluded it's just too dangerous for their kids. 

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.