Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre is urging parents not to allow their children to play tackle football until they are 14, he said in a TODAY exclusive as he revealed a powerful new PSA in partnership with the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The PSA explains that the longer a child plays tackle football, the more likely they are to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive and fatal condition more commonly known as CTE.
"I don't know what normal feels like. Do I have CTE? I really don't know," Favre told TODAY. "Concussions are a very, very serious thing and we're just scraping the surface of how severe they are."
Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said in a statement that younger children who play tackle football are at an increased risk of developing the progressive and fatal neurological condition.
“A football player’s odds of developing CTE may be most determined by their parents, specifically what age the child is allowed to start playing tackle football,” he said. “It’s time to accept that CTE is not just a risk for professional and college football players, but also for high school players, and the best way to prevent CTE among football players is to delay the introduction of tackle football."
New data looking at teenagers shows that 25% of high school football players had CTE, even though they never played in college or professionally, according to research from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — Boston University — Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank. The experts looked at 65 high school football players and found that 16 had CTE. Only one of the 16 started tackle football after age 14.
Favre, 51, played for 19 seasons in the NFL, as well as during college and high school. Throughout his long tenure as a quarterback, Favre said he might have experienced numerous traumatic brain injuries and he is unsure sometimes if forgetfulness is just a normal sign of aging or a symptom of something more.
“(There’s) no telling how many concussions I've had, and what are the repercussions of that, there's no answer,” Favre told TODAY in an interview before his appearance on the broadcast Tuesday. “I wasn't the best student, but I still can remember certain things that you would go, 'Why would you even remember that?' But I can't remember someone that I played six years with in Green Bay ... but the face looks familiar. Those type of issues that make me wonder."
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that doctors cannot definitively diagnose CTE until after a person dies, which means that knowing if a person has it or another condition remains difficult. The PSA isn’t saying that children need to avoid football entirely — it recommends that parents allow younger children to play flag football, a safer option. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that children in tackle sports are 15 times more likely to experience head impacts.
As for Favre, he said he hasn’t encouraged his three grandsons — ages 11, 7 and 4 — to play football.
"If they choose to play I will support them, but I 'm not going to encourage them in any way to play. That surprises a lot of people, but I'm just fearful of what concussions can do," Favre said. "And it only takes one. Maybe I have had a thousand... It's just too risky. I'm not going to encourage them to play until there's a treatment."
"The best way to avoid concussions is not to play at all, and of course that's not going to happen," he said.