Is tackle football child abuse?

Phillip Millar

One consequence of my ‘Legally Speaking’ articles in London’s SportsXpress magazine is that I am frequently asked more sports-related legal questions. Recently, I had a concerned mother ask me about the legality of putting children into tackle football (after having an argument with her husband on the issue). Considering what we now know about the direct relationship between brain injuries and tackle football, it’s a great question – and we do not shy away from controversy at Millars Law!

I took a moment to do some research on the topic, beyond simply watching the movie ‘Concussion.’ We represent a lot of clients who have suffered brain injuries. In my travels, I have been exposed to the concussion lawsuit with NFL players and the NHLPA, and what strikes as consistent is that, at some level, we know what causes concussions and we know that they are preventable.

Perhaps in the past, we could have said that we didn’t know that the consequences of smashing one’s head against the head of another person causes a concussion when done a thousand times over a year. But today, there is scientific, medical proof that unequivocally says that smashing one’s brain against another brain (whether wearing a helmet or not) will cause irreparable damage if done repeatedly – and will likely lead to an early death.

With that in mind, do we think that it is responsible to allow 8, 9 and 10-year-old boys to put on a football helmet (which, no doubt, gives them a false sense of security) and promote maximum aggression and then tell them to launch themselves at each other, knowing that head contact is inevitable in that circumstance?

Let me ask another question: Is it worth it – even if you love football? Even if you love the old NFL football days, where you saw – in a somewhat foreshadowing graphic – two helmets come on to the screen, crash into each other and then explode?

Little did we know then that that’s precisely what is actually happening to the brain matter inside the heads of those helmets. Think of how many men pay dearly for the show they put on for College Football fans – and then find themselves with no job and no future due to the brain trauma.

Now, let’s go back to my question: Is it worth it, even if we love football … the aggression, the noise, the tradition … is it worth it to have our children smash their brains against each other?

Perhaps the more serious question is this: Is it negligent to encourage children to play tackle football when we know the risk? Is it child abuse to put your child in a situation where all science tells you that it will very likely lead to a severe – if not deadly – brain injury?

I’m afraid that, despite the controversy and the hate mail that I will receive, in my opinion, tackle football is close to child abuse – but not quite there. This is especially true if flag football is an option …


Submitted by Millars Law