When former Bears safety Dave Duerson killed himself in 2011, his family donated his brain to Boston University to understand him and get answers.
Seven years after the university found 50-year-old Duerson’s brain showed signs of CTE, his family and CTE advocates came together on legislation bearing his name that would prevent children under 12 from playing tackle football in Illinois.
“Through research on my father’s brain and others we now know with certainty that part of the solution is to guard young children’s developing brains from the dangers of tackle football,” Duerson’s son Tregg said at a news conference Thursday.
“Most children won’t attain the fortune and fame of a pro-football player, but they should all have a chance at a healthy future. That starts by keeping them safe on the field.”
The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE, or HB-4341, was filed by state Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, Thursday in honor of the 1985 Super Bowl star.
At the news conference, Sente said studies have shown that young brains are more vulnerable to damage, and those who play tackle football before age 12 run a greater risk of having neurological impairments and developing CTE. Though the number of kids in football leagues around the state has fallen, the bill would aim at keeping those who remain in youth leagues safe.
“Children as young as five are playing tackle football, they’re taking hits at practice and at games,” Sente said. “… This bill is a natural progression given the data and the science and we can protect children’s brains and we can protect football.”
Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said because there is no national organization that oversees youth football, a state law would be the best bet for establishing guidelines.
“This isn’t about an act to ban tackle football, it’s an act to prevent children from being hit in the head hundreds of times through sports each season,” Nowinski said. “CTE is not something you get from bumping your head every once and a while. This has to come from the government if it’s going to happen at all.”
In a statement, Brian Heffron, a spokesperson for Pop Warner, said that while the youth football organization encourages player safety, they “don’t agree banning football for young people is the answer.”
“We can’t imagine elected officials mandating to parents which sports their children can play,” Heffron said. “Literally millions of young people have played Pop Warner football for nearly 90 years and have grown up to be healthy, successful adults contributing to society in so many ways. We think the life lessons, experiences and memories from playing this great team sport far outweigh the risks.”
Though the disorder is rarely diagnosed in a living person, former Bears running back and retired NBC-5 sports broadcaster Mike Adamle says he’s already seen symptoms. He said that while he knows the disorder will eventually kill him, he wants to do everything he can to make the sport safer.
Otis Wilson, Duerson’s Super Bowl teammate, says he hasn’t yet seen symptoms, but will donate his brain to science to contribute to the study of CTE and in helping to prevent future generations from developing the degenerative disorder.
“There are a lot of individuals who have this issue and with more research being done hopefully we can combat this,” Wilson said. “With the right techniques and the right coaching you can limit some things, but there should be something in place now that we see what’s going on.”