Tackle football is dangerous. That’s not a groundbreaking statement.

In its early years, the brutality of the game led to numerous deaths. Even though there’s no consensus on the exact number, it’s accepted that as many as 19 men died from injuries sustained while playing football in 1905.

At that time, the forward pass was illegal. Players wore little or no protection, and the teams were ill-prepared to offer emergency medical services.

Some colleges switched from football to rugby, because rugby was considered safer. Harvard president Charles Eliot is quoted as saying football was “more brutalizing than prizefighting, cockfighting or bullfighting.”

Spurred by public outcry, President Theodore Roosevelt, whose son played for Harvard, became involved. He pushed for an end to the brutal nature of the game and was a proponent of legalizing the forward pass.

By 1910, the game was much safer, and the foundation was laid for the sport as it is known today.

Nowadays, football doesn’t resemble anything close to what is was during Roosevelt’s presidency. More than 100 years has passed. The game has evolved, and the brutality has been minimized.

The current brand of football played in college and the NFL is nearing the polar opposite of what it was in the early 20th century. The forward pass dominates the game. There are penalties for hits deemed too brutal. The safety equipment has improved dramatically.

There’s a level of violence in football that can never be removed. When human beings ram themselves into other human beings at high speeds, some of them are going to get hurt.

The awareness of long-term brain injuries caused by repeated blows to the head is at an all-time high. Anyone who watches the news is aware of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The jury is no longer out on this topic. Playing football increases the risk of brain injuries, which can lead to CTE.

The science proves that people who play tackle football at a young age are at a much greater risk of developing the degenerative brain disease. It’s also true that other sports, particularly soccer, have been linked to CTE. In those cases, it’s possible to restrict particular plays, such as the header in soccer, to limit brain trauma. In tackle football, there’s no way to avoid the regular hits to the head.

In Illinois, state Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, is introducing the Dave Duerson Act, which would ban children young than 12 years old from playing organized tackle football.

It’ll be a tough sell. Many will see it as governmental overreach. Others will compare it to car seat regulation.

When the public became uneasy with immediate deaths caused by football, President Roosevelt helped bring about change. Now, the public is becoming increasingly uneasy with football’s long-term effects.

It may not be the job of government to save the people from themselves. On the other hand, sometimes people need a push in the right direction.

JEFF WILSON can be reached at jeffreyewilson5@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwilson83.


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