Football: Unsafe At Any Speed

kids tackle footballIn 2015 11 high-school athletes died playing football.  That is 11 that we know about. There may be more. Compare this to deaths attributed to faulty airbags – of which we now have 8 recorded. It is time to change the way football is played.

In the NFL 2015 season there were 271 recorded concussions, up 30 per cent from the previous year. That is 271 concussions that we know about, there are certainly more. Those concussions lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Brain injury vs regular brain

Brain injury vs regular brain

More legends of the game are coming forward with mental issues, and more autopsies of football greats, when the game was not as brutal, have been diagnosed with CTE.

When the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness reviewed the literature about tackling they concluded the majority of concussions and catastrophic injuries are associated with tackling.  That if tackling were eliminated it would dramatically drop concussions as well as other severe injuries in football.

3934437852_19826c520b_zThe Academy went with non-evidence based medicine when it recommended that officials enforce the rules of the game and there be more adult supervision and better tackling technique.  No evidence any of that works- in fact, there is no evidence that better coaching works at all. Look at the NFL – the best coaches in the world, and we have one third more concussions this year than last year.

This is in contrast to the 1950’s when the Pediatric Academy along with representatives from other organizations recommended excluding body-contact sports – especially tackle football for kids less than 12 years old.

If in one year an automobile part led to 11 deaths of kids, and if in one year an automobile part led to over 270 concussions, that automobile would be recalled. In terms of children – it is clear that there are deaths related to this sport, and it is time to change it.

Four Recommendations

No Tackling

This is brutal. A tackle can lead to permanent injury. One large body against another is not athletic, it is a brutal hit. In the NFL uniforms of players are often filled with blood, spit, feces, and sweat. These are the top athletes of the football world, high school athletes are not. The high school coaches are not the best coaches, and there is no medical team standing by to help these kids. The NFL coaches have shown they have no way to protect players from a concussion.

Accelerometers in Helmets

Inside the helmets are accelerometers that measure impacts. Why isn't the NFL using these?

Inside the helmets are accelerometers that measure impacts. Why isn’t the NFL using these?

These show when there is sufficient force to the head to take someone out of the game. That might be just hitting the head on the ground. Just a hit of the head can cause enough injury for a concussion, but without the data no one knows.

No More Over Training

Training for football, or any sport, can be overdone. We can measure this. There is no glory in running back and forth on a field until you vomit. That leads to more injuries. Full on hits in practice don’t make a football player better – it forces an injury. We can measure how much someone is training and avoid over-training. Over-training does not make a person stronger, it does just the opposite. By the end of the football season most teams are decimated with injuries – and the players are tired. We can monitor for over training – and should. If you want a successful football team you would not over-train them, you would not let “tradition” of “wind sprints” and “learning to take a hit” get in the way of playing the game

Better Football Fields

Most heads come in contact with the ground. With new measurements we can soften the field so that impact is less damaging to the brain.

Don’t Let Your Kids Play

I won’t let my son play. In fact, I won’t even watch football around him. I don’t wish him to think this is a game of glory that he can participate in. I enjoy watching football, but this sport needs to be in a historical anecdote along with the gladiators who died in the Coliseum. There is no glory in a sport that has not only concussions, but severe injuries to the spine, hips, and knees. Even middle aged men who did not play in the NFL but played in college have prematurely aged joints and spines.

It is time to fundamentally change the game. For kids – it is time to get rid of tackle football. No child should have to die for the sport.

If the football were a car, it would have been recalled and no longer on the streets.

Football, as it is currently played, is unsafe at any speed.


Tolerable Risks? Physicians and Youth Tackle Football
Kathleen E. Bachynski, M.P.H.
N Engl J Med 2016; 374:405-407February 4, 2016DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1513993

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

Share this article on social media!