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Protecting Our Youth For the Sake of Their Brain

2018 February 12

Should tackle football be banned for children under 12? Legislators across the country will soon be debating whether laws aimed at protecting children from unnecessary brain trauma should be implemented.

Last month, Representative Carol Sente from Illinois proposed a bill that would prohibit children “under the age of 12” from participating in “tackle football offered by an organized youth sports program.”

The bill—the Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE—was named after the late Chicago Bears safety, Dave Duerson, who died in 2011 after shooting himself in the chest. In his suicide note, he requested that his brain be analyzed to determine whether he had CTE.

He did.

Now his family is fighting to protect children from being exposed to needless brain trauma.

Legislators from New York, Maryland, and California followed suit and introduced similar bills.

The New York bill—the John Mackey Youth Football Protection Act—is named after the late NFL hall of famer whose widow has been a lightening rod in bringing about change with the way the NFL treats retired players.

The Maryland bill seeks to ban tackle football for kids under 14. It was introduced along with a bill that would mandate that an athletic trainer (or someone trained in concussion management) be at all games and practices.

On the west coast, California became the first state to propose a similar bill that would prohibit youth from playing tackle football until they reach ninth grade.

Though the likelihood of these bills becoming law is bleak, for now, it provides an important arena for lawmakers and the public to debate this critical issue.

The bills are backed by numerous current and former NFL players who unanimously agree that it is unnecessary for a child to play tackle football. They point to the successful players—like Tom Brady—that didn’t start playing football until high school.

Science, of course, supports this policy.

The leading expert in sports-related concussions, Dr. Robert Cantu, suggests it is a no-brainer from a public-health perspective.

Some of my colleagues quibble that the science has not determined which age is the right age, but they don’t seem to realize that health experts set age minimums for all sorts of activities like drinking, smoking and driving, and the science is never purely black and white.

The safe alternative, the experts’ propose, is playing flag football. Numerous organizations are popping up around the country that provide all the essential skills of football without the unnecessary brain trauma.

This is a common-sense solution we should all get behind—for the protection of our kids and the game.

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