Facts and forward-thinking lifts football, contact sports

By Dr. Gerard Gioia and Scott Hallenbeck | Posted 9/30/2019

Carpooling to practice around afternoon traffic and getting dinner ready before the kids come home are just some obstacles that football parents juggle and achieve on a daily basis. Other obstacles rear their head in the form of narratives hurled at youth football families, frustrating the consensus of medical experts.

Dr. Brian Hainline, chairman of USA Football’s Football Development Model (FDM) Council and the chief medical officer of the NCAA, recently addressed this topic through an opinion-editorial published by USA TODAY High School Sports:

“Football has become a polarizing sport because of national narratives that have created an emotional line in the sand: if you do not accept that football causes CTE, then you are a CTE denier. The science related to football is much more nuanced, and parents are desperate for truth and want what’s best for their kids.”

Parents seek truth. And the truth includes the following:

“A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been demonstrated between CTE and sport-related concussion or exposure to contact sports.”

This is in the consensus statement of the most recent International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport (2016). Parents are rarely – if ever – informed of this point in lay media reports.

The Sports Neuropsychology Society states: “At this time, there is no research that causally links youth contact sport participation with a risk for CTE.”

More than five dozen medical experts across Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S., recently expressed their concerns of how CTE is sometimes reported. In reference to specific media reports they reference as troubling, they note, “Misleading reporting can have unintended, negative consequences…”

And more than two dozen medical experts publicly asserted in an opinion-editorial in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune last year: “The scientific evidence linking youth casual sports play to brain injury, brain injury to CTE, and CTE to dementia is not strong … To be clear, CTE pathology could be present in a normal person.”

Do contact sports, including football, have challenges? Yes. Are contact sports, including football, addressing them proactively and responsibly? Yes – and we do so with urgency, working together with experts across medicine, sport and child development. In our sport, the FDM lights a football-for-life pathway, meeting athletes where they are physically, mentally and socially.

This cross-section of leaders driving innovation in our sport today includes Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens, Dr. Johna Register-Mihalik of the University of North Carolina and their 20 colleagues on USA Football’s FDM Council. These forward-thinking men and women contribute to our 21st century football model.

The FDM is football reimagined. It centers on fun and athleticism for kids and is designed to develop the whole person while contact is reduced and fundamentals are taught in a smart progression.

“Part of the model’s forward thinking is that you learn to become an athlete before you learn to become a player,” says Dr. Hainline. “When sports programs adopt the FDM, athletes will perform better, play longer and gain a lifelong path to athleticism, health and wellness through football.”

With young athletes’ well-being as our compass – from values to physical skills – how we teach and play our favorite game is changing for the better.

Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., is the Division Chief of Neuropsychology and the director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National Health System. He is a professor at George Washington University School of Medicine, president of the Sports Neuropsychology Society and a member of the Football Development Model Council. Scott Hallenbeck is the CEO of USA Football and a former youth football dad.