Flag football grows in popularity due to head injury concerns

CBS News Boston

March 7, 2023

BOSTON – Football players know whenever they take to the field there’s always a risk of a potential head injury. Now Researchers at the Boston University CTE Center released a new independent study that revealed athletes who play American football for many years and starting at a young age may be linked to a separate type of brain damage which can appear earlier than CTE. 

“We find that a lot of people have had played many years of football for instance but don’t have CTE, but still have a lot of symptoms and seem to really be suffering with both memory, and kind of behavioral and mood issues,” said Thor Stein, Boston University Associate Professor of Pathology Laboratory Medicine. 

Dr. Thor Stein says the study analyzed the brains of 205 football players ages 20 to mid-80s. It revealed those athletes who played football 11 years or more had less white matter in the brain impacting daily functional activities. 

“You may leave the stove on and forget to turn it off. You may not be able to remember a grocery list. Those kind of things were impaired in those who had less white matter proteins,” Dr. Stein said. 

To avoid these early head injuries, many families are turning to flag football. “I think it’s definitely more popular for the younger ages because they are trying to avoid the hits,” said Mathew Beaver, President of New England Flag Football. 

Beaver says they serve more 12,000 young athletes who love the game of football. Ten-year-old Kaleigh Patterson is one of them. She’s a wide receiver and corner who has been playing the game since she was four years old and dreams of playing it in college. “I like the fact that it’s not rough and contact because you don’t want to risk getting hurt,” Patterson said. 

Dr. Stein agrees. “We fully support that flag football under age 14 is the way to go. And as the kids age and able to deal with some of the hits makes more sense,” Stein said. 

New England Flag Football says the popularity of the sport is increasing every year. “With flag in general, it’s giving them the tools to be successful and learning how to play the sport the right way,” Beaver said. “It is safer.”

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