Bill to bar children younger than 12 from playing tackle football advances in House
Reps. Steven Andersson (R-Geneva) and Margo McDermed (R-Mokena) saw matters differently at a March 1 House Mental Health Committee hearing over HB4341, a bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) that addresses the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) by banning organized youth associations from allowing children younger than 12 to play tackle football.
“The subject of protecting and empowering youth has been an important passion in my career and this bill is my cornerstone piece of legislation,” Sente said, adding an expert panel of witnesses was on hand to lay out the science of CTE.
The most striking witness was Tregg Duerson, son of Dave Duerson, 1985 Chicago Bear who committed suicide at the age of 50 and had his brain donated to the Boston University School of Medicine. Duerson, like his father, is a former scholarship football player for Notre Dame and advocate for CTE.
“I can personally attest to the dangers of CTE and effects on his life and his families’ life,” Duerson said. “In 2011 my father tragically took his own life by shooting himself in the chest.”
Duerson detailed how after his father's successful NFL career, he went from being a Harvard educated, successful businessman to a shadow of himself and an individual who struggled with bankruptcy, urges of physical assault and depression.
“The note he left to us in 2011 also detailed some of the struggles with CTE and issues with blurred vision, memory loss and the inability to control his own temperament,” Duerson said. “This bill honors my family's hope and my father’s legacy to protect future athletes and the future of football.”
Sente said the most common question she has received is why government should intervene in this decision. She said the government has made decisions regarding the age of an adolescent and military service enlistment and the appropriation of a driver’s license. Sente specifically said Illinois has passed a law banning lead paint in schools based on science, which revealed children are more susceptible to being poisoned by lead than adults.
Andersson addressed the same question.
“I think there is a natural question that comes up in the argument of the slippery slope, and what’s next in what we are going to regulate,” Andersson said, adding while he takes matter seriously, he questions why Sente did not raise the age to 21.
“You didn’t, and you picked age 12 because it sounds like there is a reasonable line to be drawn there and there is still the ability to play all the other various aspects of football that do not involve tackle, is that correct?” Andersson asked.
“Yes, absolutely,” Sente said.
Anderson said if something is narrowly focused to address an issue, it is in fact, appropriate for the government to decide.
“Let’s not forget all of the things we have done with that, like smoking and tanning salons for kids under 18,” Andersson said. “We did that because there is real science and real data.”
McDermed also addressed the government’s involvement; however, she was not as accepting as Andersson, asking if any major medical association or society in the U.S. has recommended or weighed in on suggesting tackle football be banned.
“I am going to say something that the American Academy of Pediatrics has said in their policy statement that youth tackle football shouldn’t be banned and here is the interesting quote,” Dr. Robert Stern, an expert witness, said, adding after all the potential ramifications including severe brain damage and death, the answer is ironic. “It would fundamentally change the game.”
Sente said though major medical associations are not against the ban, local experts she has discussed the matter with for five years are proponents for HB4341.
“My point stands,” McDermed said to Sente and other witnesses, noting no major medical association has recommended banning the youth sport.
McDermed said coaches in her district have expressed that the game is “different” now with safer tackling and playing measures.
“They are all in my ear, so is that true,” McDermed asked.
After McDermed was told some rules have changed and children are still getting hit in the head, she questioned if there was enough data to prove cause and effect.
There is, according to Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO Chris Nowinski, adding though experiments have not been done on children, they have proven so with mice.
“We should make policy on what we know today,” Nowinski said.
McDermed said she was forced to vote no on the bill since no opposing witnesses showed to testify and she did not have all the facts and found the process flawed.
Andersson said it did not matter that opposition was not presented he would vote yes.
HB4341 was approved 11-9 by the committee and was moved onto the House floor.