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Study claims playing tackle football before age 12 could be linked to earlier CTE

(Provided photo)

A new study claims playing tackle football before 12-years-old could be linked to earlier symptoms of chronic brain damage known as CTE.

This study, published in Annals of Neurology, could give more fuel to legislators looking to ban younger children from playing the sport.

Rush-Henrietta football coach Joe Montesano has played football since childhood.

“Football’s been a big part of my life,” said Montesano. “I’ve seen what it can do to kids and the great things that come from it, other than just playing in a game. The whole comradery. All the life lessons that you learn.”

But he says the game's changed in recent years, as new research shows more risk for brain damage.

A recent study looked at the brains of 246 deceased football players who played football in high school, college and professionally.

211 of those brains were diagnosed with CTE.

This study suggests that playing football before age 12 could eventually lead to CTE symptoms appearing earlier in life.

But a doctor at Rochester Regional Health isn't so sure.

“These are patients that are dead, so you’re doing a lot of information gathering after someone is deceased,” explained Dr. Anthony Petraglia, who specializes in neurosurgery and is also the Executive Director of Rochester Regional Health’s concussion program.

“That introduces a lot of potential for misinformation, stuff that can be very critical," said Petraglia. "What their symptoms were like? Is there any way to know for sure? How many hits they were taking during practice, how many during a game, were they sitting on the sidelines? Did they not get really good till high school?”

Dr. Petraglia warns this research could create panic to pull kids from the sport.

“There’s a clear and present danger in drawing conclusions from studies that can be fraught with potential confounding factors," he said. "To make broad sweeping generalization can ultimately result in us limiting participation in collision sports and organized team athletics to the detriment."

Still, Dr. Patraglia and local coaches say the study should further efforts to make the game safer, something coaches are working on.

“People are teaching proper tackling in the off-season with no helmets, no shoulder pads, tracking into your hip, head behind. Teaching kids how to wrap roll. So I think football coaches in our area have spent a great deal of time trying to make the game safer and it’s in the right direction,” said Coach Montesano. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing to make it safe for kids.”

Montesano encourages parents to watch a practice, and ask coaches about training techniques.

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