HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) -- The big hits keep on coming, but so do the headlines that stop parents in their tracks.
Natalie French says her son wants to play full-contact football, but like many parents, she worries about him getting hurt.
“I’m really hesitant on letting him play tackle football just because of the contact. You read the horror stories and I would hate for that to be my son.”
So, for now, her son is playing for the Falcons in the new Under Armour flag football league in Madison.
French admits, she’s influenced by news reports that focus on CTE, a debilitating brain disease, caused by repeated head injuries. Researchers at Boston University studied the brains of 111 NFL players after their deaths. All but one showed signs of CTE.
Former Heisman trophy winner and Auburn star Bo Jackson says, after seeing the long term effects of CTE, he doesn’t want his children to play football.
Another former Auburn star, Jerraud Powers, who played 8 seasons in the NFL, says his son can play tackle football when he’s older. Yet, for now, he wants him to learn the basics without the contact. That’s one of the reasons Powers started the flag football league in Madison.
Powers told us, “I think nowadays parents are just wanting to know what’s the proper age? And, I think the proper age is when a kid’s brain has developed enough to tell you what’s really hurting and what’s not.”
Powers says his son won’t play tackle football until his fourth-grade year. Other parents and coaches say, they’ll wait even longer. Falcons coach Kinte Welch says, his son will likely wait until middle school.
“So, now when he transitions into full contact football, he knows it. Instead, of just taking a kid who’s never played football, and you run him out into full contact football and he gets hurt. That’s why I am a very big advocate of flag football.
While participation is down nationally in high school football, and in some youth leagues in the Tennessee Valley, Powers says he was overwhelmed by the response for flag football in Madison. In just the first year of this program, he expected 65 kids to sign up. Instead, the number was 130!
Pierce Lehr and his wife will have to make a double decision soon! They have twins playing on the same flag football team. One of the twins wants to play tackle football. The other is on the fence. Since that’s the case, they’re considering the pros and cons of full-contact football.
Lehr said, “We’re weighing both of those right now. We’re trying to learn more about, at a younger age, how do injuries come into play. Those will be some of the things we’ll be thinking about as we go forward.”
And what about Natalie French, who we heard from her earlier? She’s very concerned about long term injuries, but admits, she’s impressed with how the flag football coaches are prioritizing safety.
“This has been good. So, I might change my mind a little. I don’t know (laughs)”
French says, at first, she told her son, he would have to wait until he’s 14 to play tackle football. However, if he learns the fundamentals quickly, she might change her mind. But, she quickly adds, she can’t promise anything!