Health concerns over the sport of football continue to grow throughout the United States.
Calls for greater regulations have now led four state legislatures to actively consider legislation banning young children from playing tackle football. Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled capitals of Maryland, California, New York and Illinois have all introduced such bills this session.
“The question becomes: Do you really want us to err on the side of caution, or on the side of favoring a tradition?” Maryland Delegate Terri Hill said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Hill is a Democrat member of the Maryland House of Delegates, who has sponsored legislation that bans children younger than 14 from participating in tackle football on publicly funded fields.
Additionally, House Bill 1210 bans youngsters from body-checking in hockey and lacrosse, and prohibits “headers” in soccer — the act in which soccer players utilize their heads to shoot or pass the ball.
A plastic surgeon before entering the Maryland legislature, Hill argues that youth football organizations rely greatly on volunteers who are “well-intentioned people who just don’t have the background to always know the best way to train,” leaving kids at risk of injury.
“In some cases, the neck muscles aren’t developed well enough in young children that they’re almost like bobblehead dolls (within their helmets),” said the Democrat lawmaker. “So the helmet may protect them from a fracture, but it doesn’t protect them from the brain flopping back and forth inside the skull.”
Writing of the legislation was helped in part by former University of Maryland player Madieu Williams, who had a 9-year career in the NFL. Williams did not play football until he entered high school, and he plans to keep his 4-year-old son from participating in tackle football until he reaches the 9th grade.
“One of the first things I always communicate to our constituents is to let them know: This bill is not to tell you not to play football,” Williams stated. “What this bill is saying is to delay tackling in football.”
Maryland is far from the only state seriously considering a tackle football ban for youngsters.
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature that bans tackle football for any child under 12 years of age. That particular bill came a day after similar legislation was introduced in the New York state legislature, according to The Washington Post.
The bill in New York was named in honor of John Mackey, a Hall of Fame NFL player for the Baltimore Colts who battled memory loss and severe dementia, largely stemming from brain injuries, prior to his death in 2011.
“Playing with (kids) 5 years old up to 12, it’s just not right,” stated Mackey’s widow, Sylvia Mackey. “I cringe now when I see a ballplayer being tackled. His head hits the ground, his neck snaps, it bounces back up — when in the past, that wasn’t even an issue.”
While all bills considered face long odds in becoming law, their introductions reveal mounting concerns across the country over brain injuries among football players.
In 2014, then-President Barack Obama garnered media attention for declaring that, if he had a son, he would not allow him to play professional football, citing numerous health risks.
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” the president told The New Yorker when discussing the link between NFL players and concussions, degenerative brain disease and early onset dementia.
Perhaps the greatest blow to the NFL came when an autopsy of Aaron Hernandez — a former NFL player for the New England Patriots who was sentenced to life in prison for murder — revealed what doctors described as the worst case of brain damage they had ever seen in an individual so young.
Hernandez committed suicide in his prison cell at the age of 27.
Dr. Ann McKee and her team studied Hernandez’s brain after his death. A director of research of chronic traumatic encephalopathy at Boston University, she described shocking details of their discovery, according to NPR.
McKee and her team found Hernandez had Stage 3 CTE, brain damage they had never seen in a body younger than 46 years old.
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