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Doctors set to tackle safe age for tackle football

A warning sticker on a Humberside CI helmet warns against the injuries associated with football (file photo).

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

American and international doctors will discuss the safest ages to play tackle football at the Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport this week.

More than 100 medical experts from around the world, including leading U.S. doctors Stanley Herring and Robert Cantu, will take part Thursday and Friday.

Herring serves as the director of sports spine and orthopedic health at University of Washington Medicine and was a leader in getting passed the state's landmark Zackery Lystedt Law in 2009. The primary elements of this law have been passed in 40 states and the District of Columbia, benefiting millions of young athletes by mandating concussion information be read by student-athletes and their parents. The law also established a ground-breaking, return-to-play protocol: that following a concussion, only a health care professional, not a coach, parent or athlete, may clear an athlete to return to play.

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Herring serves on the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, and on USA Football's Football and Wellness Committee.

Cantu is a neurosurgeon and concussion expert at Boston University's medical school and has been published widely on the topic of concussions. He supports not allowing children under the age of 14 to practice tackle football, heading in soccer and body checking in hockey.

Also taking part in the discussion will be Dr. Gerard A. Gioia of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz of the University of North Carolina.

Herring is active in USA Football's program, Heads Up Football, which teaches the safest tackling techniques, designed to take the head out of the play.

"As a physician with a specific interest in head and neck injury who has cared for football players for three decades, I find ... Heads Up Football ... very valuable in helping to make players on the field better and safer," Herring said. "Also, introducing this proper tackling technique early in a player's career is essential to its success.

"Avoiding unnecessary head contact is a major part of concussion and cervical spine injury prevention teaching in the medical and sports communities, and this program is the best — by far — of any I have seen."

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