CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In the ongoing debate over football-related concussions and other injuries, you might be surprised to learn who one of the parents is who has decided not to let his child play "tackle" football.
Carolina Panthers defensive star Bruce Irvin said his biggest fear isn't for himself but that his son might suffer a serious injury.
After seven seasons in the NFL, Bruce Irvin will tell you -- football is not for the faint of heart.
"It's a violent game," Bruce Irvin said.
He's had four surgeries to his hip, shoulders and knees. While the injuries have caused a lot of pain, he said thankfully, there have been no concussions, which he admits is his biggest fear.
"The things that worries me is the CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) thing concussions," Bruce Irvin said.
He said this is why he is being cautious with his number one fan -- his 6-year-old son Braeden.
"Oh yeah, he watches. He loves it," Bruce Irvin said. "He knows all the players, very intrigued by the game of football."
Intrigued and even playing, Braeden is a running back for a flag football team in Tampa, Fla., which is home base for the Irvin Family.
But, Braeden plays "flag" football not "tackle" football, which Bruce Irvin said was a decision he and his wife Alyssa deliberately made to protect their son's body and brain.
"It is a very nerve wracking -- head, neck and back -- kids are still developing," Alyssa Irvin said.
"For my son to only be six and for him to be in full pads and taking hits to the head and head hitting the ground, me and his mom thought it would be the best for him at his age right now," Bruce Irvin said.
Parents across the country may be echoing these thoughts as well, making the decision to stay away from tackle football.
Eyewitness News anchor Damany Lewis did some digging and learned over the last several years, participation in tackle football has dropped nationwide and in Charlotte.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said high school football participation fell from 1,826 players in 2016 to 1,621 this football season.
Statewide, tackle football participation dropped as well from more than 29,000 to under 27,000 in the last three years.
Alyssa Irvin said flag football is where her son is learning the fundamentals.
"We think he can learn all the fundamentals of the game without hitting," Alyssa Irvin said.
While tackle football numbers have dropped, flag football leagues across the country are booming.
In the South Atlantic Region, which includes North and South Carolina, there's been a steady increase in the number of players ages 6 to 17 from 2015 to 2018, jumping a quarter million in three years.
SOUTH ATLANTIC REGION FLAG FOOTBALL:
- 2017 to 2018: 1.5 million
- 2016 to 2017: 1.47 million
- 2015 to 2016: 1.23 million
These numbers are for players ages 6 to 17.
Coaches said parents are using flag football as the alternative.
"A lot of people are more comfortable trying out football for the first time, something that is not contact," flag football coach Justin Rudolph said.
Bruce Irvin believes parents should make the decision for themselves, but for his family, the decision was simple.
"Anyone can get a concussion, but how do you diagnose a 6-year-old," Bruce Irvin said. "How does he know he has a concussion if he gets one?"
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