Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Illinois state representative Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, deserves a standing ovation for introducing the Dave Duerson Act in the Illinois General Assembly.

The bill is named for the former Chicago Bears great who committed suicide after developing CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The syndrome develops as the result of repeated brain trauma and is common among former NFL players.

Duerson committed suicide. He had previously told his family he wanted his brain sent to the Boston University School of Medicine for research on CTE.

Sente’s legislation would ban children under the age of 12 from playing tackle football.

Bravo!

I’d like to see the ban extended through junior high.

There really is no reason for youngsters to play organized tackle football prior to their freshman year in high school.

I’m a football fan. I grew up watching the St. Louis Cardinals on grainy black-and-white television screens. My favorite players were the gritty guys like Jackie Smith, Larry Wilson and Willis Crenshaw.

Now, 50 years later I enjoy spending Saturday afternoons at Saluki Stadium. But, to be honest, watching football has become something of a guilty pleasure. Granted, there has always been an inherent risk of injury. On the other hand, broken ankles, torn ligaments and separated shoulders heal. Brain trauma does not go away.

If football is to survive, and at this point that isn’t a certainty, there will have to be changes. As a society, we must minimize the danger to the young people playing the sport.

Given the nature of the game, the risk of injury will always be there. There is no way pre-teens should be subjected to 10 weeks of head-jarring practices and games. At least allow the young bodies to mature to mid-teen level before allowing full-contact play.

I fully understand people will disagree, vehemently, with this legislation.

However, I see no argument that rises to the level of the need to protect children.

The quality of play? Personally, I don’t see it suffering that much. And, even if the game suffers, quality of life trumps quality of play.

Kids are still going to play football. They’re going to throw the ball around the yard. They’ll likely get bumps and bruises from impromptu games of tackle. That’s part of growing up. Suffering traumatic brain injury before seventh grade shouldn’t be part of anyone’s childhood.

I’m fine with junior high and younger kids playing flag football. Kids can still learn the basics. They can learn to throw the ball, catch it and defend against the pass. Let’s face it, pass defense is probably the most difficult skill to teach.

Playing flag football will allow kids to be exposed to football strategy. The basics of blocking … footwork and angles. But, for the most part, they won’t be getting their brains sloshed around their heads.

In my opinion, the Duerson Act isn’t something to think about, it’s something to enact.

LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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