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44 Percent of Parents Not Comfortable With Their Children Playing Football

Forty-four percent of parents were not comfortable with the idea of their children playing football, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll released last week.

Only five percent of parents have actually discouraged their children from playing football in the last two years, however.

In some ways, this finding shouldn't come across as novel. Pop Warner, the nation's largest youth-football program, experienced a 9.5-percent drop in participation between 2010-12. High school football participation rose for just the first time in five years this past school year.

Last year, TheMMQB.com (an offshoot of Sports Illustrated) surveyed 98 parents of high school football players, asking two questions: "Are you worried about how football will impact your son's health later in life?" and "Have you ever thought of telling your son he can't play football?" Sixty-five of the 98 parents expressed concern about the impact of football on their children, while 20 admitted they've thought of telling their sons that they can't play.

Additionally, in an HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll released last fall, roughly one in three Americans said they were less likely to allow their children to play football due to what they know about football-related head injuries and long term brain damage. According to the survey, 13 percent of the 1,204 adults surveyed would not allow their sons to participate in football.

Given the research that has come out about football and head trauma in recent years—some football players' brains may not fully recover from hits endured even after six months of no-contact rest during the offseason, for instance—parents' skepticism of football is entirely warranted. If anything, such unease will force football leagues at all levels to change their teaching methods and playing rules to reduce the risk of concussion. Earlier this summer, California enacted a law prohibiting high school and middle school coaches from conducting more than two full-contact football practices per week, and new guidelines released by the NCAA and the College Athletic Trainers' Society in July made similar recommendations.

Football wasn't the only sport that drew concerns from parents, per the AP-GfK poll. Forty-four percent also said they weren't comfortable with their children playing ice hockey, and 45 percent said the same about wrestling.

Again, based on recent research, those concerns are more than justified. According to a 2010-12 report from The Datalys Center, boys suffered 11.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures while playing football (an athletic exposure being defined as each instance of one athlete participating in a game or a practice) and 6.2 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures while participating in wrestling, the highest and third-highest rates, respectively, of any sport. A 2008-10 report from a different group found boys to suffer 5.4 concussions per 10,000 athletic exposures while playing ice hockey, which was the second-highest rate (trailing only football).

The AP-GfK poll, which was conducted July 24-28, surveyed 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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