Growing Divide Among Adults Over When is OK for Children to Start Any Form of Sport

Model brain next to football and helmet


Contacts: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 (o), 978-758-4664 (c) or, Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or

LOWELL, Mass. – A majority of Americans believe it is not safe for children to play tackle football before they reach high school, according to results of a UMass Lowell-Washington Post poll released today.

Of the 1,000 adults surveyed by the national poll, 53 percent feel that tackle football is not a safe activity for kids before they are in high school. This compares to 41 percent who say that tackle football is safe for children to participate in before they are in high school. Some respondents, 6 percent, are undecided on the issue. 

Despite their opposition to tackle football before high school, a 57 percent majority of Americans believe that high school football is a safe activity. Asked in terms of children’s ages, 50 percent of adults responded that it is inappropriate to introduce tackling into football before the age of 14 compared to 44 percent who think it is appropriate.

The same poll found 83 percent of Americans believe there is settled science indicating that playing football causes brain injuries and that a large majority think that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), one of the conditions some believe is linked to football-related head injuries, is a serious public health issue. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that CTE was diagnosed posthumously in 99 percent of the brains of 111 former National Football League players. 

Among those who said that it is true that playing football causes brain injuries, 44 percent said it is OK for children 13 or younger to play football. Among those who did not agree that playing football causes brain injuries, 54 percent said it is OK for children age 13 and younger to play football.

“As Americans become more aware of the long-term effects of head injuries and concussions in sports, their preferences about youth football reflect a public divided about whether the game continues to be a safe activity for children,” said Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion. “The data also shows that fans of football and other sports are still largely supportive of children ages 10 and up participating in tackle football, but these views are not shared broadly across the American public.”  

On the issue of whether heading the ball in soccer is safe for kids before they reach high-school age, respondents were divided again, with 44 percent saying it is safe and 44 percent who do not believe it is safe.

Other findings from the poll include:

• Women were more likely to say that football is not appropriate for children age 13 or younger than men, 54 percent to 46 percent. 

• Of the respondents who have post-graduate or college degrees, only 34 percent said that football is OK for children age 13 or younger, compared to 48 percent of those who do not have a degree who were in favor of it.

• Respondents in the youngest group surveyed (age 18 to 29) were more likely than those in older groups to say that football is appropriate for children age 13 or younger. 

Results of the UMass Lowell-Washington Post poll, conducted through a new partnership looking at Americans’ opinions on a variety of sports and related issues, are based on live interviews with a random sample of 1,000 American adults conducted in English and Spanish via cellular telephones and landlines Aug. 14 through Aug. 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent for all respondents. Details on methodology and additional poll data and analysis are available at

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 18,000 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.