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This study has limitations. The brains used in this study may not represent those of the broader tackle football population, because most ex-football players, and their families, chose to donate their brains to shed light on their cognitive and behavioral struggles. Still, the results are alarming. “The data supports that you should not play tackle football until you’re more physically mature,” says McKee, whose future work will attempt to define a sort of tipping point for tackle football: how long can kids play before the risks rise exponentially?
Last week, California lawmakers dropped legislation banning tackle football for children under 12, and a similar measure has stalled in Illinois. But the momentum for limiting hits is expected to keep growing. “The cost-benefit of playing eight years before high school is so far on the side of being foolish, it’s inevitable that this change takes place,” says former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who retired in 2015 at age 24 because he was concerned about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma. Borland started playing football in the ninth grade. “The research is going to continue to come out. It gets harder to justify young kids playing.”.