We’ve reached a point in sports culture where it’s no longer a major shock when public officials propose banning youth football.
The latest state to do so is Massachusetts, where a bill nicknamed “No Hits” — as in “An Act for No Organized Head Impacts to Schoolchildren” — would prohibit children from playing tackle football in school or youth leagues before reaching the eighth grade. Organizations that would fail to comply would receive financial penalties. As of March 7, the bill was in the hands of the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health.
“Soccer has age restrictions for head contact. Lacrosse has age restrictions. Hockey has age restrictions for head contact. Football doesn’t,” Massachusetts State Rep. Paul A. Schmid III, a Democrat and one of two legislators who filed the bill, told The Herald Newsof Fall River, Mass. “We otherwise wouldn’t want to get involved in youth sports, but it turns out (football) doesn’t have a national federation like those other sports.
“It’s all about kids’ health and we have a number of studies that say that repeated contacts to the head are very bad for you and the younger that starts, the worse it is,” Schmid continued. “It seems that if you start playing tackle football in high school, you’re in a much better place than if you started earlier.”
Schmid might have been referring to two recent studies that found school-age football players with a history of concussion and high-impact exposure can undergo brain changes after just one season.
“Should we ban youth soccer, too?” Massachusetts Rep. David Nangle, a Democrat who opposes the bill, asked a New York Timesreporter. “Or youth hockey? When do we stop legislating into areas that we shouldn’t be?”
According to The New York Times, both USA Football and Pop Warner issued statements regarding the proposed legislation. The sport’s national governing body said the decision to allow kids to play tackle football is “best left to parents,” while the largest youth football organization in the country claimed that ““banning football is not the answer, but we do agree that we should continue our efforts to make the game safer for our kids.”
Concussion concerns and increasingly alarming news about football’s long-term impacts have affected participation levels. As Boston.com notes, “nationwide high school football participation [is] down 6.6 percent in the past decade and Massachusetts participation [is] down almost twice that, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
It’s noteworthy that the latest battle over youth football is being fought in Massachusetts — home of Boston University, which has been ground zero for concussion research and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Indeed, documentation supporting the bill cited a study at Boston University’s Chronic Encephalopathy Center showing 86 percent of 246 football players studied have been diagnosed with CTE — a condition only diagnosable upon death. BostonHerald.comalso noted a BU study that determined “athletes who played nine or more years of contact sports were six times more likely to develop Lewy Body Disease, which can cause Parkinson’s, than those who played eight years or fewer.”
“I’m not sure you can teach a real young kid the appropriate way to block and tackle. They’re not ready physically or emotionally,” Biff Poggi, head football coach at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Md., said, quoted in a document supporting the bill. “We don’t let kids drive before the age of 16 for a reason. There ought to be really thoughtful legislation around the game of football. The consequences are too severe.”
Maryland is one of five other states where politicians have tried to ban youth football.
History is not on the side of Schmid and his Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Bradley Jones.Boston.com took a look at what happened in California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York when politicians tried to ban football. [Spoiler alert: None of those proposals became reality.]