SPRINGFIELD – A suburban Chicago lawmaker wants to tackle sports concussions by limiting tackling at youth football practices.
Under legislation introduced this week by state Rep. Carol Sente, school districts across Illinois would have to adopt a policy that would cut the amount of contact during practices to once per week.
The proposal comes as sports concussions have become a hot-button issue for the National Football League. With medical studies showing that repeated concussions could lead to permanent brain damage, the nation’s most popular sports league is facing dozens of lawsuits filed by former players who sustained head injuries during their playing days.
Sente said the trend is “disturbing” and needs to be addressed, especially for younger players.
“It should be a concern to all of us,” the Vernon Hills Democrat said Thursday.
If adopted, Illinois wouldn’t be the first to call for less hitting on the practice field.
The NFL has placed limits on contact during practices and the Ivy League has limited hitting among its college football players to a maximum of two times per week. Pop Warner football, which provides gridiron opportunities for kids ages 5 to 14, adopted a policy limiting contact to no more than one-third of practice time.
Sente said she discussed the issue of concussions with a Chicago-area neurologist who suggested eliminating all contact in football.
Sente, however, said that’s not the intent of her proposed law. She said she wants to preserve the game of football, but make it safer for participants.
Her proposal would build on a 2011 state law designed to help Illinois student athletes recover from a concussion. Under that law, any high school student suspected of suffering from a concussion is required to be checked by a certified medical professional before being able to reenter a contest.
The Illinois High School Association, which governs most high school sports in Illinois, also has developed concussion-related guidelines and educational materials for coaches, students and staff. And, IHSA-sanctioned officials must be trained to recognize the symptoms of concussions.
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said he’s not sure the state should be imposing a law on high schools. He said his organization has already developed guidelines for addressing concussions and could take the lead on any additional changes that may be warranted.
“We think we’re really well positioned to handle that debate,” Hickman said.
The legislation is House Bill 1205.