Lawmakers in Illinois, New York propose tackle football bans for youth

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois lawmaker on Thursday proposed a bill that would ban tackle football in youth sports before age 12, one day after a similar bill was reintroduced in New York.

Both measures highlighted the sport’s growing brain injury concerns ahead of the Feb. 4 Super Bowl, likely to be seen by hundreds of thousands of U.S. children who play youth football.

Illinois Democratic state Representative Carol Sente dubbed her bill the “Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE,” after the former Chicago Bears player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to head trauma.

Hers and a similar one from a New York legislator seek to protect developing brains from repeated blows that could cause neurological damage, said Chris Nowinski, the head of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. He said studies have linked the duration of a player’s career to the risk for such damage.

“We have an obligation to protect children’s futures, especially when we know how brain trauma can be prevented,” Duerson’s son, Tregg Duerson, told Chicago’s ABC7-TV on Thursday.

Both the National Football League, which has grappled with fallout from CTE in recent years, and youth football leagues have made changes to limit injury and head contact, enacting measures such as requiring players who suffer a suspected head injury to receive medical clearance before returning to play.

“We hope that all youth sports will continue to take measures to reduce head contact through similar rules changes, education and improved protective equipment,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement, without directly addressing the proposed youth tackle bans.

A Boston University study last year found boys who start playing American football before their 12th birthday may be at increased risk of behavioral and mood problems later in life compared with peers who hit the gridiron later.

It found youth football players sustain about 250 head impacts per season.

Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football, told the Washington Post that the organization has not taken a position on outlawing tackle football for children under a certain age but said it needs to look into the possibility. He could not be reached by Reuters on Thursday.

It is unclear if the bills will gain traction but Nowinski said next month’s big game will focus attention.

“This is a good time to be talking about this because the eyes of the country are on the Super Bowl,” Nowinski said.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Lisa Shumaker