The New York Times has reported that a physician-led study at Boston University found that playing full contact football before age 12 leads to a 3 times greater risk of depression and a 2 times higher risk of behavioral problems and diminished executive function in the brain. The study followed 214 former football players with an average of 51 years old. Of the participants, 43 played throughout high school, 103 played throughout college, and 68 went on to play in the NFL.
A similar study at Wake Forest University found that playing just one season between the ages of 8-13 years old was enough to reduce brain function. Why is the age of 12 considered a magic number? Experts know that between the ages of 10-12, a child’s brain goes through rapid development and growth and that head trauma, such as hits during tackle football, can cause irreparable damage to the brain.
A prior Boston University study, conducted on the brains of 111 NFL players, also found that playing contact football before age 12 increased the risk of behavioral issues and depression. That same study found only 1 brain that did not have CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the formal name for the brain disease that afflicts those who have sustained repeated head injuries.