Miami Dolphins’ Nick Buoniconti warns parents: ‘CTE has taken my life away’

Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti said tackle football before age 14 is ‘all risk with no reward.’ (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis )

Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, saying “CTE has taken my life away,” joined a group of researchers and doctors Thursday in urging parents to not enroll their children in tackle football until they’re 14 and instead turn to flag football.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston-based nonprofit behind much of the research on concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), held a news conference in New York to announce the launch of Flag Football Under 14, a program recommending that parents to use age 14 as the dividing line.

The news conference comes as Boston University published a study outlining the link between CTE and repetitive hits to the head, not just those causing concussions. Published in the medical journal “Brain,” the findings underscore risks for younger athletes in contact sports, raising questions about the dangers of hits currently receiving little or no attention.

“I made a mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old,” said Buoniconti, 77, a linebacker on the Dolphins’ championship teams whose battle with dementia was chronicled in a jarring Sports Illustrated article in May. “Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward.”

Buoniconti appeared at the news conference with fellow Hall of Famer Harry Carson of the Giants and Phil Villapiano of the Raiders.

“I did not play tackle football until high school, and I will not allow my grandson to play until 14, as I believe it is not an appropriate sport for young children,” Carson said.

The announcement of Flag Football Under 14 was made by CLF co-founders Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, who pointed out that Jim Brown, Tom Brady and Walter Payton are among those who achieved greatness despite not playing tackle football before age 14.

“As much as this is about CTE science, it’s also about common sense,” said Nowinski, who played at Harvard before his career in the WWE was cut short by concussions. “We cannot overstate the absurdity of allowing 7-year-olds to receive 500 head impacts a season just because they happen to be getting exercise at the time.”

Villapiano said, “I watched my teammate, Ken Stabler, deteriorate and die from CTE. At some point those us who have had success in this game must speak up to protect both football players and the future of the game, and supporting Flag Football Under 14 is our best way to do that.”

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