With Joliet Catholic and Providence high schools in her district, state Rep. Natalie Manley represents an area that takes its football seriously.
When fellow Democrat state Rep. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills approached the Joliet resident about supporting her legislation to ban tackle football for youths less than 12 years of age, Manley didn’t think there was any way she would support the bill.
“I was like ‘I’m not going to support this thing, these parents, this is going to be bad,’” Manley remembered, “but I promised her I would look at all the information I got and that I would talk to people. “
She said she talked to former players, coaches, parents and “fanatics” and thought, for sure, they would say to not touch the game.
“I was shocked. They told me that this was the best thing they ever heard,” Manley said at a state hearing on the topic last week. “I was shocked. I’m talking about people that live and breathe football, high school football.”
She asked them how the young players would get up to speed by the time they reached high school. The experts told her by concentrating on technique and learning the fundamentals of the game, nutrition, strength training and during flag football focusing on the area that they would tackle later: the waist.
Manley wound up being one of the members of the state House’s Mental Health Committee that supported advancing Sente’s bill to the House floor in an 11-9 vote.
Voting in favor of advancing the house bill were state Reps. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park), Steve Andersson (R-Geneva), Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), Lou Lang (D-Skokie), Theresa Mah (D-Chicago), Anna Moeller (D-Elgin), Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), Juliana Stratton (D-Chicago), Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), Manley and Sente.
Committee members in opposition to advancing the bill were state Reps. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Leland Grove), Margo McDermed (R-Mokena), Charlie Meier (R-Okawville), Dave Severin (R-Benton), Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) and Michael Unes (R-East Peoria).
Despite a panel in favor of the legislation speaking for nearly an hour, no one opposed to the legislation gave any input, raising eyebrows with some House members. Conroy, chair of the House’s Mental Health Committee, said that five individuals opposed to the proposal had signed up to give testimony but failed to appear.
Kifowit said proponents were given “preferential treatment” and said that it is not how the committee is supposed to function.
Sente’s legislation is dubbed the “Dave Duerson Act” for the Chicago Bear safety who took his own life in 2011, suffering from symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease known to cause mood swings, depression and acts of rage.
“I can personally attest to the dangers of CTE and its effects on his life and his family’s life,” Duerson’s son, Tregg, told lawmakers. “He went from a Harvard-educated successful businessman to a shadow of himself. He struggled with bankruptcy, urges of physical assault, and also depression.”
Tregg Duerson said the bill would honor his father’s hope to help protect future athletes and the future of football.
Chris Nowinski, founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said that almost everyone who has had a long career in football has the CTE disease.
The former Hersey High School player and All-Ivy League defense tackle, who wrote a book “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis” in 2006 said banning youth tackle football is the best option on the table.
“Shorten the number of years individuals are playing the game,” Nowinski said. “It is like shortening the number of years you smoke to reduce your risk of lung cancer.”
—- Movement to ban youth football scores first victory in Illinois —-