Is allowing kids to play contact football equivalent to child abuse? The Doctors welcome neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and former NFL star Kyle Turley to discuss this hot-button issue. We examine whether the risk of concussion while playing the popular sport is too great for anyone under 18.
According to a recent study, 110 out of 111 of deceased former NFL players who had their brains donated to the study suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE. Many believe that the damage to the brain begins early on, one of these people is Dr. Omalu, who Will Smith portrayed in the movie, "Concussion." He thinks no one should be allowed to play contact football until the age of 18. In his new book, "Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports," Dr. Omalu says letting kids play football is "the definition of child abuse."
"The basic fundamental definition of child abuse is the intentional exposure to the risk of injury," he says, noting that we would never give a child a cigarette. "But we would send a child to a field to suffer a concussion?" The neuropathologist says that once someone is 18, they can make a choice whether to play football.
The Doctors note that there is risk involved in any sport and plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon shares that he played football -- both flag and contact -- and the only concussion he ever had was while playing flag football.
Instead of football, Dr. Omalu recommends non-contact sports for kids like swimming, track & field, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, and tennis. "These [non-contact] games will give your children everything football will give your child... these games will protect your child's mind and your child's intellect," he says.
Kyle played for The Saints, The Rams, and The Chiefs during his time in the NFL and also experienced CTE personally, but he still coaches kids football and feels the approach to keeping kids safe needs to be re-examined.
"I believe there are protocol changes that can be implemented... I believe that certain medications need to be implemented into the game of football that have neuroprotective aspects to them," he shares. "I believe there are a number of solutions available to us that we are not accessing."
Child advocate and attorney Areva Martin adds, "There could be an argument that some sports kids just shouldn't play. Some sports could be so dangerous and the risk so great, that we as a society should say, 'If you subject your child to that sport you are indeed engaging in child abuse.' Just like how we say you can't allow your child to ride in the car without a car seat. The state steps in to protect a child in lots of ways, so sports shouldn't be any different."
So is flag football for people under 18 the answer? Kyle, who did not play football until he was a senior in high school says, "100 percent... I saw broken arms and blown out knees and paralyzation [in contact football.] So I knew it was dangerous enough."
The Doctors also recommend parents who allow their kids to play contact football ensure their team's coach is well informed about the possible risks, like CTE.