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Poll: Majority of Americans Say Sports Concussions are Major Health Issue

National Survey Finds Concern about Brain Injuries in Athletics from Youth to Pro

Youth sports athlete

07/20/2016

Contacts:  Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

Detailed poll results and analysis are available at www.uml.edu/polls. UMass Lowell representatives are available for interviews about today’s poll.

LOWELL, Mass. – With the start of football training camps just days away, a majority of Americans say they believe concussions and brain injuries resulting from that sport and others are a major problem and leagues like the NFL are not doing enough to respond, according to a national poll released today by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion.

Ninety-four percent of 1,000 American adults polled believe that concussions and head injuries resulting from participation in sports are a public health issue and 65 percent say such injuries are a major problem, according to the new poll, which was independently conducted by the Center for Public Opinion. Only 6 percent said they do not view sports-related concussions as a problem. 

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed say that they believe science shows playing football can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and 87 percent say that brain trauma that results in CTE is a serious public health issue.

“One of the key findings from the poll is that there is widespread awareness of CTE among respondents who identify themselves as sports fans. Among them, 66 percent say head injuries in sports are a major problem and they are critical of the handling of the concussions by sports organizations like the NFL and NHL,” said Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of the Center for Public Opinion, who oversaw the poll and analyzed the results.

Fifty-two percent of those polled who identify themselves as sports fans said the NFL has not been responsive enough to the issue of concussions. Feelings about the National Hockey League were similar, with 42 percent saying that the NHL has not done enough. Less than a quarter of respondents (22 percent for the NFL and 15 percent for the NHL) said that the leagues have made appropriate changes.

The poll also found strong support among both men and women, parents and non-parents, for limiting tackling and other activities in youth sports, including soccer and hockey, that have the potential for contact with the head.

A majority of Americans surveyed, 78 percent, said it is not appropriate for children to participate in tackle football before age 14, compared to 21 percent who felt it is OK for children younger than 14. Opposition was strongest among women – 94 percent oppose it before age 10 and 84 percent oppose it before age 14 – but nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of men surveyed also opposed tackle football before age 14. 

Forty-eight percent of those polled said tackle football is certainly or probably not safe even for high school students and of the survey respondents who are familiar with Pop Warner football’s response to the issue of sports-related concussions and brain injuries, 62 percent said the youth football organization has not done enough.

Sixty percent of respondents indicated they believe it is not safe for children who play soccer to “head” a ball before they reach high school, compared to 40 percent who feel it is OK, the poll found. 

“This poll confirms a growing public awareness that concussions can result in CTE, a degenerative brain disease, and that CTE is now viewed as a serious public health issue,” said Associate Prof. Jeffrey Gerson, a UMass Lowell political science faculty member who also worked on the poll. Gerson has studied coverage of sports concussions over the last decade and presented papers on the topic and teaches courses that examine the politics of the sports concussion issue. “The poll also confirms that the public believes that one of the greatest threats to athletes is at the youth level. The public’s negative view of tackle football for children under 14 and heading a soccer ball in youth soccer may lead to further changes in these sports that can have a ripple effect on sports for older children, especially at the high school level.”

The poll of 1,000 American adults was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Center for Public Opinion. Representative samples were achieved through a non-probability-based method that uses propensity score matching to match poll respondents to a frame created from the 2010 American Community Survey. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent. The survey was conducted from May 31 through June 6. The center received no outside funding for the poll.

More information on the poll methodology and polling data are available at www.uml.edu/polls.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,500 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu