A grass-roots effort on social media resulted in a first-of-its-kind rally in Springfield on March 6 with supporters from across the state coming out against a proposal that would bar children younger than 12 from playing tackle football in youth sports programs.
Introduced by Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills), HB4341 passed a House committee on March 1 by a vote of 11-9. It was on the calendar to be debated in the House on the day of the rally.
Displeased with the proposed legislation, advocates for parental freedom posted a petition on change.org and encouraged participation in the rally on Facebook.
Michelle Katauskas of Lemont originated the petition via change.org. The appeal was designed to empower families to make their own choices for their children, based on the premise that government involvement goes too far in controlling parental decision-making.
Katauskas and others call the bill patently unfair. They take issue with the idea of singling out football while excusing other sports such as soccer, hockey and wrestling. They point out how girls’ soccer is among the leading causes of concussion, yet no such ban has been suggested for that sport or other such contact sports.
The petition on change.org quotes Sente as saying children’s lives are at stake and that even lacking conclusive research, action must be taken.
"In public safety, sometimes with issues of how much government should get involved, some people will take the side that you have to prove this 100 percent before you stop,” Sente said according to petitioners. “My feeling is these are children’s lives.”
Katauskas called Sente’s logic “ridiculous,” criticizing the legislator for attempting to implement restrictions on a sport based on a trend rather than fact.
“My two sons as well as many others will be devastated that they can't play a sport they love because a politician and some former NFL players said they know what's best for you,” Katauskas said in the petition.
Those promoting the Springfield rally on Facebook said, “Come in numbers. ... Meet at the state Capitol to fight this youth football law from being passed.
The Facebook posting urged sharing the notification through social media to generate a sizable turnout.
“Let’s show the House how many this will affect and let’s show our kids that their voice is worth hearing,” rally organizers said via Facebook. “We need to make sure that the sports our kids want to play are the decisions of the parents not the government. We are a large state so let’s show them how many families will be devastated. Teach your kids that, in America, your voice always deserves to be heard.”
Andrea Lenig Vercelli, who initiated the Facebook event promoting the rally, publicized the cause on her own page as well.
“Please take one minute and sign this petition,” Vercelli posted recently. “Illinois is trying to take youth tackle football away from kids under the age of 12. This will not only devastate my boys but so many other boys we know and don’t know.”
As of late January, more than 1,800 individuals had signed the petition, according to Vercelli’s post. More recently, change.org itself revealed a tally of more than 15,625 supporters. The group’s goal is to reach 25,000 signatures.
“Let's show Rep. Carol Sente and Illinois government that we oppose discriminating against one sport in the name of safety,” organizers said via change.org.