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Illinois lawmaker wants to end tackle football for players 12 and younger

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State lawmakers could ban tackle football for children 12 and younger under legislation expected to be announced Thursday in Chicago.

The proposed Dave Duerson Act was written to address growing concern about repeated blows to the brain and the long-term health effects it causes for players, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Former NFL players and physicians were expected to announce the legislation during a press conference, the Chicago Tribune reported. Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, will introduce the legislation. In a news release, she said she aims to allow youth the opportunity to enjoy the game and avoid the negative long-term health effects.

Researchers have studied the issue for more than a decade and recently discovered that rather than paying attention to the hardest collisions, neuroscientists should be looking closely at the routine hits to the head suffered by football players, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

“On the football field, we’re paying attention to the bright, shiny object — concussion — because it’s obvious,” said Dr. Lee E. Goldstein, of Boston University, who led the study published earlier this month in the journal “Brain.” But, he continued, “it’s hits to the head that cause CTE.”

In a study last year, researchers found that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease, The Washington Post reported.

For the Mascoutah Little Indians, the bill could cause trouble for an activity that’s already seeing less participation, according to president Frank Stoltz.

“My first thought is that there are bigger fish to fry in the state of Illinois than legislating youth tackle football out of existence,” Stoltz said. “There are a lot of people who work very hard to teach that it’s safe and fun.”

Stoltz said that while flag football already exists among many teams in the league, there isn’t much interest outside of Edwardsville and O’Fallon. It is his belief that if tackle football is outlawed, the kids will seek out another sport like lacrosse or soccer rather than go to flag football.

The impact of concerns over CTE has already begun, Stoltz said. “Last year was the first year we didn’t have a representative team at each age level,” he said, mostly in the younger ages.

For example: In 2016, Mascoutah had 31 6-year-olds playing for the Little Tigers. Last year only six children signed up. For 7-year-olds, it dropped from 27 to 17 kids. There weren’t enough 7-year-olds for a team, so they had to play with the 8-year-olds, he said.

And Stoltz said those numbers are reflected in other teams; he estimated most, if not all, of the other teams had age groups with insufficient participation to form a full team. “That’s probably the first time that’s happened, and I’ve been affiliated with youth football since the 1980s,” he said.

Representatives of other metro-east youth teams could not be immediately reached for comment.

BND reporter Elizabeth Donald contributed to this article.

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