A proposed bill unveiled Thursday in Chicago would prohibit tackle football for children younger than 12 in Illinois.
State Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) joined a coalition of football stars and medical experts at a news conference in Chicago, proposing the Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE. The legislation aims to reduce long-term health risks associated with tackle football.
Dave Duerson was a starting safety on the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl championship team. Duerson took his own life at age 50 and later was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that has been linked to repeated hits to the head.
Joining Sente in support of the bill was Tregg Duerson, Dave Duerson’s son, Dr. Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, former Bears player Otis Wilson, former Bears TV broadcaster Mike Adamle and Liz Nicholson, wife of former NFL player Gerry Sullivan.
Sente wanted to be clear that she does not dislike football.
“I know people take it like I’m trying to take away their football, and what do I know?” Sente said. “I don’t hate football. That’s not the way I feel at all.”
Sente has been involved in a number of youth sports bills in the past, including a failed 2013 bill that aimed to limit tackling in high school football practices. The IHSA later enacted a bylaw with similar provisions.
“We’ve done a lot of work on concussions in Illinois,” Sente said. “Our state, we do have work to go, but we’re kind of a leader in that area. The data is showing us that while concussions are bad, the more detrimental thing that happens in tackle football is the repeated sub-concussive hits over seasons, over years.”
The announcement of the proposed Dave Duerson Act comes one day after New York introduced a similar bill, which also would ban tackle football before age 12.
Concussions are not the primary concern with regard to CTE. Common hits to the head, the type that happen on almost every play in a game of football, are of concern.
“A child’s brain goes through significant changes as they become an adolescent between the ages of 8 and 12,” Nowinski said. “We have research now to say playing football during those years increases your risk as an adult of having problems with cognition and depression, behavioral issues.”
Geoff Meyer, president of The Chicagoland Youth Football League, does not believe eliminating tackle football would be a good thing. TCYFL oversees some 50 youth football organizations, including many in McHenry County.
“Eliminating youth football is dangerous because it will eliminate the necessary early training our players receive so they can be safer if they chose to play at the higher levels,” said Meyer, speaking from Orlando, Florida, where USA Football will host its national conference beginning Friday.
Meyer still believes the positive aspects of youth football far outweigh the negatives. He noted that tackle football is a choice.
“The research that concludes that CTE comes from multiple hits, rather than just concussions, does not come to the conclusion that youth football should be banned,” Meyer said. “I’m not trying to downplay it at all. There’s no more important responsibility than leading our young children.”
One McHenry County coach noted he was “disappointed” by the proposal. Johnsburg Jr. Skyhawks president Tom Curry, who has been involved in the program for 11 years, said the Jr. Skyhawks typically start playing tackle at age 7. The Jr. Skyhawks are a TCYFL program.
“The concern I’ve had with all the conversations about concussion and CTE has been that it seems we’re judging what’s being done by our programs today by what’s happened in the past,” Curry said. “Player safety is very much No. 1 on our list of concerns.
“We don’t get enough credit for the continuing education, the quality of the equipment we use, the maintenance of the equipment.”
Curry said he fielded calls from parents and friends within the football community all day Thursday after news of the proposal broke.
“If this becomes law, then we just adapt,” Curry said. “We extend our flag program and make it the best we can make it.”
Sente and Nowinski both know that there will be opposition to the bill from many in the football community.
“I would ask them to have an open mind and to read the research,” Nowinski said. “Don’t think about protecting the game, think about protecting football players.”