Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives have put forward a bill that would ban tackle football for children who are in seventh grade or younger. WGBH explains that the bill is based on research which suggests long-term consequences for children who experience multiple concussions or head injuries. If the bill becomes law, schools or leagues in violation of the restriction would pay a fine of $2000.
While some parents, coaches, and even kids may balk at this suggestion, Rep. Paul Schmid (D-Westport), a sponsor of the bill, says that they're not recommending a total ban on football. "We're not banning football. Touch football, flag football, great. Up through the seventh grade, go to it. What we're saying is, for seventh grade and under, no tackle football."
The data on which lawmakers have based this bill comes from Concussion Legacy Foundation Co-Founder Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., a former college football player and professional wrestler who aims to educate the public to reduce the number of brain injuries in youth sports. Nowinski points to research showing that tackle football can impact brain development in kids between ages 8 and 13.
Nowinski stated: "There's evidence out of the Boston University CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] Center that football players who started before age 12 were worse off long-term, with higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of memory issues than those who started at 12 or later." CTE is a brain condition caused by repeated head injuries, and is often found in athletes or military veterans. Symptoms may take years to present, but can include changes in mood or personality, memory loss, and difficulty organizing thoughts.
The Boston Globe detailed the tragic story of former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, whose autopsied brain showed one of the most serious cases of CTE ever found in a person so young. Hernandez took his own life at age 27 while serving a prison sentence for murder. His story has brought increased awareness to the risks of high impact sports where players may experience frequent concussions.
Unlike youth soccer or hockey, there is no statewide authority that regulates the rules for youth football, so lawmakers are getting involved. The bill has bipartisan support in the Massachusetts House. Other states including New York, California, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey are looking at similar proposals to ban tackle football for children.