An argument against kids playing tackle football

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We hope you enjoyed Episode 2, in which Kimberly Archie shares her story of loss, and how the death of her son made her an even more passionate advocate for child safety in sports.

And if you haven’t listened yet, you can do so here:

Here are some more details from our interview that didn’t make the episode.

Q: What aren’t football helmets protecting the brain?

Archie: “It’s inside this fluid that floats around. It’s like a yoke inside of an egg. You can scramble an egg without breaking the shell. And that’s a good way to look at what happens with your brain.

“There’s more than just the weight of the helmet. It also has vibrational issues, it’s 15–30 degrees hotter inside. I call it the … when we’re in eighth grade science and you put things under the fire, you see how things change with heat. So you’ve got vibrations, you’ve got these repetitive hits, you have it hotter, these are all issues, and then when you think about rotational force or torque and you’ve got a kid whose head is 75 percent of it’s total size but their neck and chest muscles aren’t developed and their body isn’t developed you have this kind of effect. And then you add a four-pound helmet on top of it, you’re exponentially increasing the risk, you’re exponentially lowering the amount of G-force necessary to strain the axons of the brain. And then you add in the repetitive aspects of it, it just doesn’t add up to anything but a disaster.

“And further beyond the helmets you’ve got the shoulder pads and the nylon uniforms and the varying surfaces the kids play on. You can’t build a playground in this country without a playground inspector and the surface has to meet all these very specific standards, really strict in California. And the surface has to match the equipment. We don’t do that in sports. I find it fascinating that McDonald’s does a little playground for little kids that has to be more detailed about science than when a high school builds a football stadium. So we oftentimes have pretty hard surfaces that kids are falling on as well that can play a role.

“And these helmets are not made for kids, they’re not tested specifically for child anatomy, and it also is not tested in a way that mimics live play. You don’t have a crash dummy like you see in those commercials for car crashes. They actually have a head form with no facemask on it, so it’s just the shell. And they, like, drop it on its head or they hit it from the side. They never hit two helmets together, they never hit it on various surfaces and you don’t have a neck or spine, which we know from car crash studies, particularly with children, that the spinal chord is part of the whole mechanism of injury.

“How would they even know what these helmets can and can’t do when they’ve just dropped it out of the sky with a head inside of it and that’s it? It’s so ridiculous. There’s no way with common sense that you can argue that it’s been tested to be used the way that they sell it to be intended to be used.”

Q: Can brain injuries be limited by coaching better tackling?

Archie: “Let’s talk about magic tackling a little bit because it’s such a big topic. First of all it’s sort of like saying ‘hey we have these new tackling techniques.’ That’s not true. They’ve been saying Heads Up Tackling for over a hundred years. You can go to Matt Chaney’s blog, who’s a football historian and has done an incredible job linking articles back over a hundred years talking about tackling.

“Second of all, every sport’s skillset should be taught in progressions and should be taught specifically, not by trial and error. We’re not going to give a gold star to football for having a technique for their skillset. That’s a requirement for risk management. It’s like saying, ‘oh this guy didn’t beat his wife so he’s a good husband because he didn’t beat her.’ You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to have a sport skillset progression in training based on science and not trial and error. That’s basic stuff.

“Of course there should be tackling technique taught. I’m not arguing that by any means, but that it would solve the brain damage or accumulative trauma to ligaments and joints to small kids ... Again, no amount of magic tackling or helmet fancy surfaces or other things that they could come up with, this nose spray or this collar thing, that the medical director of Pop Warner wants to change the blood flow to people’s brains to so-called improve the outcome for repetitive hits. None of that’s going to override nature enough to make the risk worth the reward.

“The way I explain it to most parents that seem to get it is, you wouldn’t hit your cell phone 100–500 times a year, with its case on it, to protect it just like a kid would so-called have a helmet, with the same amount of G-Force, from 10–100 Gs. Why would you do that to your kid? Why would you sign your kid up for that? If you know your cell phone couldn’t sustain those hits, you’re telling me that the phone is less fragile or less important than your kid’s brain? I just don’t believe that parents think that.

“I think that they’ve been sold a bill of goods that has been perpetuated for decades. The marketing is incredible. If I would give the NFL or Pop Warner or USA Football or any of these football groups or the helmet companies an A for anything it’d be marketing. They could sell ice to eskimos.”

Q: What about those who cite plenty of examples of athletes who do not suffer brain damage after playing football?

Archie: “‘We have millions of people who played and they’re all fine.’ Although I’ve never seen a brain of a football player that didn’t have brain damage. And I don’t mean CTE, I’m just saying brain damage. They too have never shown us a brain, not one. They say they have millions of examples but no one has an actual brain autopsy example, so it doesn’t really match up with the three hundred brains that we have with brain damage and many of them have CTE. They have zero. So right now we have zero with no damage and almost 300 of football players with brain damage and a majority of those with CTE on top of the brain damage.

“So right now, I mean their argument pretty much doesn’t even exist as far as trying to say everybody is so safe playing it. They’re not giving the level of scientific proof that they really need to. I mean narrow pathology is the standard of proof to prove that someone is fine and doesn’t have brain damage.

“You can’t just say, ‘oh they lived a great life.’ How do you know that their IQ wasn’t diminished? How do you know that they didn’t have ADDHD or seizure disorder or that their brain wasn’t less than what it was intended to be originally? You don’t know that.”