Concussion Threat Behind Youth Football Ban Bill: ‘Football Is to CTE What Smoking Is to Lung Cancer’

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A state lawmaker from Westport on Tuesday pitched his bill that would prohibit tackle football before eighth grade as a way to protect children from brain injuries, while opponents countered that it would infringe on parental decision-making.

“Increasingly, science is telling us that hits to the head are bad, and that the sooner they start, the younger you are when they start, they worse it is for you,” Rep. Paul Schmid told the Public Health Committee, according to the State House News Service.

Schmid’s bill would prohibit children in grades seven and below from playing, practicing and otherwise participating in “organized tackle football,” with flag football and other non-tackle varieties still allowed.

Schools, leagues or other entities that violate the prohibition would be subject to a fine of up to $2,000 per violation, with penalties increasing for subsequent violations and for “serious physical harm” to participants. The bill is cosponsored by 16 other representatives in addition to Schmid—six Republicans and 10 Democrats.

“Football is to CTE what smoking is to lung cancer,” said Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler and Harvard football player who co-founded the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center and is the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “The more you do it, the longer you do it, the greater your risk.”

Nowinski referenced a recent study by BU researchers that found the risk of developing the degenerative brain disease CTE rises by 30 percent with each year of playing tackle football.

Paul Dauderis of the Massachusetts Youth Football Alliance urged the committee members to seek out research that specifically focuses on youth and high school football players, saying many studies examine the small number of athletes who play at the college and professional levels. He called Schmid’s bill a “tremendous overreach into the rights of parents to allow their children to play a game.”

Jon Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based youth football organization Pop Warner Little Scholars, said youth football is safer today than it’s ever been in the past, thanks to changes including mandating coach education, new “medically guided” rules, and a greater awareness of concussions. He said there has not yet been a study that shows the effect of delaying the age at which a child starts tackle football.

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