Pint-Size Football Players Are Taking Big-League Hits

BY Hari Sreenivasan  March 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM EDT

Updated April 3

Kids who play football make — and take — hits to the head just as hard as any high school, college or NFL player. That’s what the data show; it’s not partisan, it’s not political and it’s not trying to suck the fun out of recreational sports. Journalist Stone Phillips delved into never-before-conducted research by Virgina Tech that could have a long-lasting impact on how little kids suit up for football.

Phillips’ report is scheduled to air on Monday’s NewsHour, but you can get a sneak peek right here. Make sure to join us Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET below for a follow up chat.

When I was growing up, it was called pee-wee league or Pop Warner football, and the image I remember is of kids with helmets too big for their heads running around like bobblehead dolls banging into each other. They looked so awkward, in part because their neck and chest muscles hadn’t developed fully enough to support their heads and the extra gear. Another thing not fully developed is the brain. That means some of the self-preservation instincts of not hitting head-first — and even the techniques of safer tackling — are not yet hard-wired into these tiny athletes. As mentioned in Phillips’ piece, the research shows more helmet-to-helmet contact in this age group than in high school or college.

Technological advances like adding accelerometers inside helmets is not new; in fact, if a sideline doctor can get a page every time a player takes an exceptionally hard hit to the head, I imagine parents will receive alerts on their smartphones someday soon advising them to check on their star player after a big hit.

Phillips stopped by the newsroom the other day, and we talked about what led him to do this story and what the research uncovered.

StonePhillipsReports has more resources, including links to helmet rankings and programs designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help coaches and athletes watch out for concussions.

Submit your questions for Phillips in the comments below and on Twitter for the live chat Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET.