Nearly Two-Thirds Say to Offspring: Wait Until High School to Play the Sport

ST. LEO, FL – A majority of Americans say youths should not play contact football, according to a new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey. The nonpartisan poll ( was conducted online among 1,000 American adults from September 10 through September 16.

The hard knocks and multiple concussions that football players often suffer during games and practice are cause for concern. Recent research showed that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in the brains of more than 100 former professional NFL players, some of whom committed suicide. The findings were published in July in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from Boston University examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. The brains were donated to the program. CTE was “neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87 percent), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99 percent),” The Journal of the AMA reported. The researchers noted that CTE may be related to prior participation in football.

Symptoms of CTE include confusion, memory loss, anger, depression, and even dementia. The issues can occur years after receiving the blows to the head.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute introduced the topic as follows:

Recent studies have suggested that youth, at elementary or middle school age, playing or practicing football are suffering from increased numbers of spine and neck injuries, concussions and even elevated risk for heart attacks in otherwise healthy young people.  One recent study showed 7-year-olds are receiving ‘adult sized impacts’ when playing or practicing football.”

Poll respondents were asked four questions regarding youth football and concussions:

  • In general would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the elimination of youth contact football prior to entering high school?
  • “Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the elimination of youth contact football prior to entering middle school?”
  • “And, how likely would you be to encourage your own child or another child to wait until they reach high school before playing contact football if you had the opportunity?”
  • “And, how likely would you be to encourage your own child or another child to avoid, altogether, playing contact football if you had the opportunity?”

While the national survey was being conducted, the polling institute also asked a separate sample of 500 adult residents of Florida the same questions. Youth, high school, college, and professional football is popular in Florida, which is home to Saint Leo University.

Nationally, 52.5 percent of those surveyed say they support eliminating youth contact football prior to high school. In Florida, the polls shows 55.8 percent say they would support jettisoning contact football before high school.

In Saint Leo’s poll, the national survey shows 56.6 percent say they support elimination of the contact sport for children prior to entering middle school while 56.1 percent of Florida respondents agree.

Nearly two-thirds (61.5 percent) of Americans surveyed say they likely would encourage their child to wait until high school to play football (62 percent of Florida poll respondents).

A majority would recommend that their own child or another child avoid playing contact football altogether, the poll shows, at 53 percent. In Florida, 53.4 percent said they would do the same.

Dr. Christopher Wolfe, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, said his classes discuss sports and head injuries. “I have seen some recent reports suggesting any head injury is trauma and causes injury in the brain,” Wolfe said. “It’s been a wonder to me that since these findings [regarding CTE and professional football players] have come out, that more discussion on this topic hasn’t become a focus.”

As a parent, Wolfe also wrestles with the issue. While his son does not play football, he does play soccer competitively. “And even though the league does not allow headers, it happens and I cringe,” Wolfe said.

The psychology faculty member said the brain sits in a series of membranes and fluid, which suspend it, allowing it to accommodate movement. The membranes provide a soft cradle, he said. “But just like the poem, cradles fall and strong blows to the head cause the brain to move too quickly, too forcefully for the delicate structure holding it, and slam into the inside of the skull,” Wolfe said. Tissue damage is a result.

Where in the brain the damage occurs also is a factor, he said. “Looney Tunes used to use stars to indicate head trauma,” Wolfe noted. That depiction likely is when the blow is to the back of the head, resulting in damage to the occipital lobe or vision center of the brain.

“Still others experience loss of consciousness, memory, sensation, movement, language, nausea, tremors, the list could go on,” Wolfe said. “Essentially, we’re talking about damaging the most important part of our bodies.”

Poll respondents with more education highly supported eliminating contact football before high school for youths with 65.3 percent of national respondents with post-college education (master’s degrees, etc.) saying they support elimination while 50.8 percent with a college degree and 43 percent with a high school education saying they support abolishing football prior to high school.

Along racial lines, 55.2 percent of white respondents say they support elimination of contact football until players enter high school while 47.2 percent of African-American respondents and 49.1 percent of Hispanic respondents agree.

This month, the brain scan of former New England Patriots and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, showed he had a severe form of the degenerative brain disease. Hernandez, a convicted murderer who was accused in two other killings, recently committed suicide in prison at the age of 27. His estate filed a federal lawsuit against the NFL and the Patriots, saying the team knew that the repeated hits to the head could result in brain disease.

“The connection to young children playing football is that that is exactly where each of these men started,” Wolfe said of the 110 former NFL players who researchers found to have CTE. “Thirty, 40 years of head trauma results in significant, degenerative brain trauma.”

While the NFL (and other professional sports leagues such as the National Hockey League) have taken steps to watch for concussions and monitor players, parents and others remain concerned.

“I often hear, ‘but I can’t just wrap him in a bubble,’ and ‘football teaches teamwork,’ and ‘he really likes football,’ etc. I want to say frankly, if you caught your kid sniffing glue, you’d stop them and say ‘that will kill your brain cells.’ ”

Media contacts:
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

More About Our Research
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted September 10-16, 2017. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, 500 distinct respondents approximately proportional to state population contribution were surveyed also from September 10-16, 2017.The results have a margin for error of +/-4.5% at a 95% confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.


About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.