The ramp-up to the Super Bowl is in full force this week. It's Patriots versus Seahawks, East versus West Coast, franchise coach and quarterback versus another budding pair. Unfortunately for the NFL the week has also been marred by controversy: "Deflate-gate," questionable player acquisitions, and concussions to name three. Now another has emerged.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) this week released a study that found the NFL targeted young children with a range of advertisements and enticements. The CCFC said the league uses its influence to infiltrate school curriculum, to encourage young kids to play fantasy football, and to eat junk food, among other things.

To make matters worse for the league, the Journal of Neurology reported Tuesday that kids who played football before the age of 12 — and continue into college and the pros — ended up with a much higher likelihood of memory and cognitive problems.

Chris Nowinski played defensive tackle for Harvard University. Nowinski went on to a professional wrestling career — known as "Chris Harvard" for a time — before multiple concussions ended his career. Nowinski now works at the Sports Legacy Institute, researching concussions and related head injuries facing athletes of all ages. Nowinski was dismayed by how many kids play tackle football.

"This is more evidence that we should really think of how we do youth sports to avoid hitting our kids in the head," Nowinski said Thursday on Boston Public Radio.

"Not only is playing longer worse for you, but your brain is actually developing in a very special way between the ages of ten and 12. ... We would assume it would have consequences. Now with research, we're seeing it has consequences."

Nowinski pointed out that football diehards like former coach and broadcaster John Madden have started to wonder about youth football.

"John Madden was on the NFL Network sitting next to Roger Goodell. He goes, 'Why are we funding kids playing football just after they've been potty-trained?'"

In addition to Madden, former players like Brett Favre and Jim McMahon have spoken about long careers darkened by repeated and brutal hits. Despite such high-profile attention, the NFL rakes in billions. Nowinski noted that the NFL needs a steady pipeline of players to keep business brisk.

"The fastest way to get kids caring about football — understanding what is a complex game if you don't grow up with it — is to get them playing early so they understand the rules, and look up to guys in the NFL," Nowinski said.

Despite the league's popularity, recent campaigns against dangerous youth sports have been successful, Nowinski said.

"We're seeing changes. The latest poll from University of Pennsylvania said that 50 percent of parents are wary about letting their kids play football. Last year it was 40 percent."

>> To hear the entire conversation with Christopher Nowinski, click the audio above.