Tom Brady's dad has big concerns about safety of youth football

Tom Brady's dad says he would be hesitant to let his son  play football if he were making the decision today. His concern: the long term physical impacts of the game, even starting at the youth football level.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) flips over on his head after he was hit hard by San Diego Chargers defensive tackle Cam Thomas, not seen, in the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) NFLACTION11; Tom Brady Charles Krupa

This one might give parents with sports-minded boys some pause:

Tom Brady’s dad said publicly this week that he would be “very hesitant” to let his star quarterback son play football if he were making the decision today.

Yes, that means playing youth football at all. 

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The reason, Tom Brady Sr. explained, is that he knows more now about the long-term dangers connected to the concussions and head traumas that are part of the sport. He also threw his support behind former star quarterback, Kurt Warner, who took flak for saying that he would prefer his sons not play football.

“This head thing is very frightening for little kids,” Brady Sr. said. “There’s the physical part of it and the mental part – it’s becoming very clear there are very serious long-term ramifications.”

Brady Sr.’s comments are the latest in what has become a growing concern about the long-term physical impacts of football – and a growing debate for parents who are stuck between new health information and a sense that, well, this is just what little American boys do. 

(That debate gets even fiercer in parts of the country where high school football rules.)

Google “should boys play football” and you’ll get an emotion-laden million items, with chat rooms, forums, blog posts and articles. It’s as if you’ve Googled whether mom and apple pie are still OK.

For millions of parents, the answer is still "yes."

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 1.1 millions boys play football in the US. For younger kids, the number is even larger, according to Virginia Tech researchers – 3.5 million kids ages 6 through 13 play tackle football.

This is strange, perhaps, for a country blamed for being full of helicopter parents. Because the health data is increasingly sobering:

According to a 2010 study published in the journal “Pediatrics,” football has the highest rate of high school sports concussions, impacting around 1 student per every 1,000.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that hospitals recorded a 62 percent increase in children under the age of 19 suffering serious head injuries – one fifth of those injuries in boys came from playing football.

The damage is even more intense for younger children, researchers say – in a study released earlier this year, the Virginia Tech researchers found that helmeted children playing football suffer head impacts equal in force to those caused by the bigger hits at the college level.

“Nobody expected to see hits of this magnitude,” said lead researcher Stefan Duma.

Nobody except, perhaps, Brady Sr.

He didn’t let his son play football until Jr. was 14-years-old because he felt it wasn’t safe.

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