SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The sponsor of a proposal to ban Illinois children younger than 12 from playing tackle football told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the measure aimed at delaying the effects of helmet-banging head trauma lacks the votes to pass this session.
Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, said parents and taxpayers “need more time to absorb the evidence” of a link between repeated blows to the brain and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a dementia-like, degenerative disease characterized by memory loss, violent urges, depression and other cognitive troubles.
Prominent ex-football players have died by suicide, and others who are living blame their brain-related dysfunctions on CTE. Sente’s legislation is named for former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who took his own life at age 50 in 2011 but preserved his brain for research that ultimately revealed the markers of CTE.
Sente said she is pleased her push for the law at least fueled a discussion on the proposal.
“It became clear over the past 10 weeks that parents need more time to absorb the evidence that exists” linking repeated sub-concussive hits to a youth’s brain to CTE, she said.
Fans of football, considered America’s most popular sport, argue that children can be taught safe tackling techniques and Sente’s proposal would delay key skill development and eliminate opportunities for the disadvantaged.
The Legislature isn’t scheduled to adjourn until May 31. Sente could seek an extension to reporting rules and continue working on the roll call, but she said the “anger of vitriol” of parents and coaches around the state made it clear that lawmakers would struggle to vote “yes” on her measure even if they favor it.
Opponents believe that the decision about when a child takes to the gridiron should be left to parents. Some told Sente that CTE “is an NFL issue” that isn’t relevant for the vast majority of football players who lack the talent to play in college or professional ranks.
The Chicago-based Pop Warner youth football program criticized the plan.
“Pop Warner football is safer today than it ever has been in its 90-year history, thanks to mandated coaching education, stringent new rules, a changing culture inside the game and greater awareness around concussions,” spokesman Brian Heffron said last month after Sente’s measure won House committee approval. “Banning the sport for young people is not the answer to concerns anyone may have about the game.”
Sente countered that children could develop necessary skills playing flag football or could choose from any number of off-field activities or hobbies.
Despite the Legislature’s adjournment in May, the proposal stays alive until year’s end. Lawmakers will gavel into session for two weeks late in the year and could consider it then, Sente said.
“This is cutting edge research that is evolving weekly,” Sente said. “As the evidence reaches parents, I believe more individuals will delay when their child starts playing tackle football. If they don’t have options like flag football, I believe in time parents and youth will steer away from football entirely.”
The bill is HB 4341.