The Pediatrician’s Moral Obligation to Counsel Directively Against Youth Tackle Football

Lainie Friedman Ross



In this issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, Professor Ruth Tallman argues that pediatricians ought to support adolescent football players in their athletic goals. She does not deny that doing so means “helping children hurt themselves”; rather she argues that this would be consistent with a shared decision-making model in which both the physician and the patient seek to promote the patient’s well-being in light of the patient’s own goals. I argue that this ignores the role of the parents, meaning that Tallman is suggesting “helping parents allow their children to hurt themselves.” As a general pediatrician, I would classify this as child neglect, if not downright child abuse. I argue that pediatricians should counsel directively against youth tackle football, employ a deliberative approach to shared decision making within the triadic doctor-patient-parent relationship, and support youth sport policies that seek to reduce traumatic brain injury by advocating for flag football, by prohibiting checking in boys’ ice hockey, and by minimizing heading the ball in soccer below a certain age.


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