An llinois lawmaker announced on Thursday a proposal to ban organized tackle football for children under the age of 12.
The bill is called The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE. Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety, fatally shot himself in the chest at the age of 50 in 2011 with the intent of leaving his brain intact to be studied.
Duerson played in the NFL from 1983-93 and was selected to four Pro Bowls. He was a member of the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl team.
A postmortem exam revealed that Duerson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the crippling brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head and shown to be a significant risk to football players. CTE has been linked with former football players suffering memory loss, violent moods, dementia and depression.
A recent study has shown that blows to the head that don’t cause concussions can also contribute to CTE. Football at all levels, not just the NFL, is believed to put players’ brains at risk.
The bill was introduced by Democratic State Rep. Carol Sente. She was joined by Chris Nowinski, the head of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Duerson’s son Tregg Duerson and former Bears players Mike Adamle and Otis Wilson.
“We all want kids to have fun playing football and to learn to play the game the right way early on,” Sente said in a statement. “But the overwhelming data and powerful stories of our supporters here today show the risks of playing tackle football before turning 12 just aren’t worth it.”
Tregg Duerson, like his father, played football at Notre Dame. He says he has not noticed any symptoms of CTE, but plans to donate his brain for research when he dies. Current medical science can only reliably diagnose CTE after death.
“When my father tragically took his own life, he donated his brain to science in hopes of being part of the solution,” Duerson said. “Thanks to increased attention and research on brain trauma, we know that part of the solution is to guard young children’s developing brains from the risks of tackle football.”
This is not the first state-level bill aimed at banning tackle football for younger children. New York state assemblyman Michael Benedetto introduced a bill to ban children 13 and younger from playing tackle football in his state in 2016. The bill received little support.
The lack of success in New York did not deter supporters of the Illinois bill.
“This isn’t about an act to ban tackle football,” Nowinski said. “This is about an act to prevent children from being hit in the head hundreds of times through sports each season.”
The NFL has acknowledged a link between CTE and football and agreed to a $1 billion settlement that was upheld in late 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear legal challenges to the deal.