Former Vikings QB Brett Favre urges parents to wait to start kids in tackle football

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NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre is part of a new campaign with the Concussion Legacy Foundation urging parents to have their kids play flag football until age 14, before they possibly start tackle football, to reduce their exposure to repetitive head impacts.

“Having kids play tackle football before high school is just not worth the risk,” said Favre, who started in a record 297 consecutive NFL games over 19 seasons including with Minnesota and Green Bay. “CTE is a terrible disease, and we need to do everything we can to prevent it for the next generation of football players.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

CTE remains only diagnosed after someone dies — researchers are still trying to figure out why some people get it and others do not.

"Somebody who knows football as well as Brett Favre and is known to be as tough as Brett is also on the side of protecting your kids," said Chris Nowinski, CEO and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Nowinski pointed to a 2019 research paper published in Annals of Neurology that states the odds of developing CTE may increase by 30% per year of tackle football played.

“So basically we are saying the longer play the greater at risk you are for CTE,” Nowinski said. “So if you want your child to maximize the benefits of getting to enjoy tackle football but minimize a risk of getting a brain disease from it, you have to shorten their career."

Favre and Nowinski, a former college football player, are urging parents to wait to enroll their children in tackle football until age 14.

“At this time, there is no research that causally links youth contact sport participation with a risk for CTE,” said the chairman of USA Football’s Medical Advisory Panel, Dr. Gerard Gioia, who is the Chief of Neuropsychology at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Gioia wrote about the changes to the youth game in recent years in a USA Football blog post that addresses how it’s taught and played based on the athlete’s age and skill level.

At Tonka Football Association, in the west Metro, more than 600 kids will play football this season.

"This year we grew the program with just Minnetonka kids,” said co-director Tony Wixo. “We’re doing something right — it’s equipment we are putting the kids into have changed."

Tonka Football provides resources for parents to learn about how they play the game.

“Football has changed: Rules, equipment, and the game has actually changed,” Wixo said. “We practice differently than we did just a few years ago.”

"See it firsthand — talk to the coaches, talk to the other parents, that’s probably the biggest," Wixo provided that advice for parents who want to know more about the game.

Is this a conversation you’ve had with your kids when to play tackle, share your thoughts, there’s a discussion going on right now on the KSTP Facebook page.