Growing national consternation about the health effects of tackle football— the head trauma, the concussions, the CTE — has pushed legislators in at least five states to introduce bills creating a minimum age for kids to participate. With HD 2501, “An Act for No Organized Head Impacts to Schoolchildren,” a bipartisan group of Massachusetts legislators joins them.
The bill would make it illegal for kids to “play, practice, or otherwise participate in organized tackle football” before eighth grade.
Schools or leagues who allow kids who are too young to participate would receive a $2,000 fine for every violation. The fine may be increased to $5,000 for a second violation within 12 months of the first. If serious physical harm befalls a participant who shouldn’t be playing, the fine can reach $10,000.
Similar efforts around the country have not found success. In New York, neither a bill that banned tackle football for kids under 12 nor one that would have forced parents of kids who play tackle football receive concussion information passed. A California bill, the “Safe Youth Football Act,” attracted over 30,000 signatures to a petition in opposition in just three days. It was ultimately withdrawn about two months after its introduction.
Similar bills in Illinois and Maryland were withdrawn. A New Jersey legislator’s attempt to prohibit kids under 12 from playing tackle football has languished since its introduction nearly a year ago.
The only conclusion is that the cultural power of football continues to outweigh the scientifically proven risks. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who was the first to discover and publish findings of CTE in football players, has said letting kids under 18 play tackle football is child abuse. A report from the Aspen Institute found that kids under 14 are at prohibitively high risk of CTE if they play. Another study found that for “every year younger an athlete begins to play tackle football, they could experience symptoms associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy two-and-a-half years earlier” as an adult.
And while participation is on the decline, legislation like HD 2501 could do much more to accelerate the prevention of repeated head trauma in young kids. The bill’s 17 cosponsors should be prepared, however, to confront a passionate group of parents and kids who don’t want to lose their beloved sport.