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Bill Aimed At Banning Youth Tackle Football Stirs Debate, Conversation

March 15, 2018
A Maryland House of Delegates committee recently killed a bill, which would have, among other things, prohibited children from playing tackle football until they reach high school.

The bill was overwhelmingly rejected by the Ways and Means Committee March 5, when 19 people voted to kill the bill and three abstained from voting, according to reports.   

Still, the bill stirred up a lot of debate and emotion about whether children should be participating in sports that could result in head injury. 

When first proposed earlier in the session as a "public health bill," the bill proposed setting up many "restrictions and requirements aimed at addressing child head injuries from sports." The bill specifically included elementary and middle school-aged children participating in public school or youth programs. 

The legislation targeted youth football as well as soccer where it aimed to eliminate heading the ball.

Del. Terri Hill, the Howard County Democrat who filed the legislation, recently said she wasn't terribly optimistic about the bill passing but wanted to start a conversation. 

"At the very least, this is an issue that we need to have a serious discussion about," Hill said during an interview with Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 8. "We need to recognize that we're putting our kids at risk in ways that we never appreciated before."

Recently, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has become a hot-button issue in sports, particularly in the NFL. CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disorder, cases of which have been discovered more and more recently in those who've played football for a long time.

The issue of head injuries has reached the youth level, with many hoping the proposed bill would limit the amount of head trauma athletes are exposed to throughout their careers. Some, however, felt the bill was trying to do too much.  

Reggie White has a unique perspective on the issue. He has been the head football coach at Milford Mill High School for 16 years, and he spent four seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman. White believes completely doing away with tackling in youth football is not the answer.

He suggested making some changes that will help the children and the sport.

"I think that there are some adjustments that need to be made to youth football," White said. "You can make adjustments to how many games they play as they grow up. You're taking the rights from the parents, and you're telling the parents what they can and cannot do."

White suggested giving more information to those who coach youth football.

Ernest T. Jones is the interim head football coach at Morgan State and has a 10-year-old who has been playing tackle football since he was 5 years old. 

Jones was not a fan of the bill.

"I would not be excited about that bill going through and how it would stop my son from playing," Jones said. "I wouldn't want him to stop doing something he loves."

Jones said he understands what the legislators are saying from a medical and a protection standpoint. However, he agreed with White on one big point: make sure the coaches know the right ways to do things.

"They should have training so that coaches should understand proper training," Jones said. "They should be teaching them how to teach. Do what's needed to teach youth coaches the right way to coach. As long as they're teaching it from a fundamental standpoint, and the [kids] are wearing protective gear that's been approved, then they should be fine."

Maryland is the fourth state that's tried to enact a bill like this. Sports Illustrated reported on March 1 that an Illinois bill "to ban tackle football for children under the age of 12 has passed through committee and will head to the state's House for a full debate."

New York and California have also tried similar measures. Such statewide legislation has not been passed anywhere.

As for Maryland, the bill could resurface in the future, but it will be up to Hill and others as to how it's presented. 

"What we are talking about is organized sports below a certain age," Hill told Glenn Clark Radio. "This is not about banning football. We are doing damage. We should recognize that [and] should make sure kids are protected from damage to the brain."

Issue 242: March 2018