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Illinois Lawmaker Seeking To Ban Tackling In Youth Football

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A state lawmaker on Thursday planned to unveil legislation that would ban children under age 12 from playing tackle football in Illinois, in an effort to reduce head injuries.

The measure would bar anyone under age 12 from playing tackle football for any organized sports team but would allow children under age 12 to play in touch football and flag football leagues.

Dr. Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said research shows children that young can suffer greater neurological damage.

"You're taking a 40-pound child and putting a 4-pound helmet on their head, and asking them to run into other children," he said.

Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) introduced the proposal, dubbed the "Dave Duerson Act," to the Illinois General Assembly on Thursday. The bill is named after the late Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears defensive back, who took his own life in 2011.

Duerson's son, Tregg, threw his support behind Sente's proposal.

"It's not going away, these kind of sports, so that being said, let's make it safer," he said.

After his death at age 50, Dave Duerson was diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive brain trauma. Duerson had shot himself in the chest, and he requested his brain be examined the by Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which later announced the CTE diagnosis.

More recently, a Boston University publication linked CTE to repetitive hits to the head, even if they don't produce symptoms of a concussion. According to the report, the risk is higher for athletes who played tackle football as children, which is why Sente's proposal would target pre-teens.

Some youth football coaches argued the law would do more harm than good. Coaches with the Chicagoland Youth Football League came out adamantly against the proposal. They said that in pre-teen years before hitting puberty, kids learn proper tackling and safety techniques.

Patrick Murray, coach of the Humboldt Park Patriots, said he's afraid if those training years are taken away, football injuries will be far worse when players start tackling in their teens.

"The 9-year-olds are more laughable than they are violent," Murray said. "The contact is very minimal. We do upgrade our equipment every three years, which is certifiable. It's really more of a youth fun age for them. Just the beginning, and then when you get older, yeah the hits become a little bit more harder, and more violent, but they are so much prepared."

But Otis Wilson, a former Super Bowl teammate of Duerson's, said there's no harm in starting tackle football later.

"Something should be in place now that we see what's going on," he said.

Kids' tackle football already is a thing of the past in the Park District of Highland Park, which canceled tackle football last year, due to sharply declining participation over concerns about head injuries.

One of the lead doctors at Boston University has said CTE can start early and without signs of a concussion.

"This paper provides the best evidence to date that CTE is triggered not by concussion, not by concussion, but rather by hits to the head, irregardless of whether it results in concussion or not," Dr. Lee Goldstein said. "The vast overwhelming majority of hits are occurring, and no one's paying attention."

Duerson's son, doctors and other former NFL players will be on hand when Sente formally announces her proposal Thursday. Among them will be retired NBC 5 sportscaster Mike Adamle, a former Bears player who has said he's suffering dementia, memory lapses and mood swings.

A New York lawmaker also has sought to ban tackling in youth football.

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