Bioethics Blogs

Medical Ethics and School Football

by Steven H. Miles, MD and Shailendra Prasad, MD, MPH

This is a special pre-print posting of an editorial scheduled for the January 2016 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics.

Health professionals should call for ending public school tackle football programs. We disagree with the perspective and the argument of a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that supports the current organization of reforms of youth tackle football.

About 1.1 million students play on junior and high school football teams. Another three million play in non-school programs. Youth football is slowly dying. The number of players on junior and high school football teams has fallen 2.4% over the last 5 years. Pop Warner Football, the largest non-school based program has seen its number of student athletes fall 9.5% (23,612 athletes) from 2010 to 2012. Data is not available for other youth leagues.

We agree with the AAP that the rare deaths (seven through October 2015) or catastrophic neck injuries do not, of themselves, tip the balance against school football. Tragedies occur in other sports and activities that young people pursue. Youth football also brings high risks of sprains, strains, ligamentous tears and fractures but these risks are roughly comparable to other sports.

Public schools should end their football programs because of the high prevalence of concussions. Five to twenty percent of students experience at least one concussion in a season of play. Nine to twelve year old players experience an average of 240 head impacts per season; high school players average 650 head impacts per season.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.