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Football

Proposed 'Duerson Act' aims to prohibit tackle football for Illinois children under 12

Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com
Crystal Lake Raiders players ages five and six attend football practice for the Flyweight program at Crystal Lake South High School Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017.Flyweight players play tackle football on a shorter field, with no kickoffs or punts, change players frequently.
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Crystal Lake Raiders players ages five and six attend football practice for the Flyweight program at Crystal Lake South High School Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017.Flyweight players play tackle football on a shorter field, with no kickoffs or punts, change players frequently.

A proposed bill unveiled Thursday in Chicago would prohibit tackle football for children under 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 is aimed reducing 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 was later 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 would also 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.”

Nowinski said a child’s head is nearly full grown at age 6, but the rest of the body is still catching up. Nowinski and Sente both noted that many of football’s most revered superstars didn’t play tackle football until high school — including Tom Brady, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Jim Brown, among others.

Tregg Duerson, who played football at Notre Dame, said his family would have supported the bill even if it hadn’t been named after his father.

“The sport of football is evolving and how we play it and the age requirements or limitations need to be changed,” Tregg Duerson said. “Other major sports have made adjustments because of concussions.”

Tregg Duerson noted that soccer has placed limitations on heading and hockey has created limitations on body checking at young ages.

Geoff Meyer, president of The Chicagoland Youth Football League, does not believe elminating 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.”

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.”

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