Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban tackle football before the 8th grade.
Supporters said the research shows the risk, but opponents said it should be up to their parents to decide when their children can play. Both sides weighed in at a public hearing at the Massachusetts State House in Boston Tuesday before the Joint Public Health Committee.
Under the bill, any league or school caught playing tackle football could be fined up to $10,000 if a child was seriously hurt.
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If the bill were to pass, Massachusetts would become the first state in the country with a ban on tackle football for that age group. Other states have had similar proposals, but so far, none have passed.
Among those who came to testify in support of the bill were concussion experts from Boston University. Their research found kids who start playing football at age 5 are 10 times more likely to get the degenerative brain disease known as CTE than kids who wait until they are 14.
"I'm getting more concerned every day," said Dr. Robert Stern of the Boston University CTE Center. "This is one of those things that has to be taken seriously right now to make sure that we protect those brains at the most vulnerable time of development."
Angela Campigotto-Harrison lost her father to CTE in 2016. He was diagnosed as stage 4 after playing football for several years. She came to testify in support of the bill.
"It is something that I have to do as someone who had a family member that was a victim of this disease. It was a nightmare," Campigotto-Harrison said.
On the other side are football executives from Pop Warner and USA Football. They testified that if kids do not learn tackle early, they are more likely to get hurt later. They said they support measures to enhance the safety of the game, but they feel a ban would miss the mark.
"If you take tackling out of tackle football, you've effectively abolished tackle football," said Scott Hallenbeck, the CEO of USA Football. "What we need to do is continue to teach techniques."
Opponents also said they do not think it is the government's place to make the choice for parents.
"If they think it's appropriate for their child, then it's fine," said Jon Butler, the head of Pop Warner.
The bill is far from hitting the floor for a vote and remains in committee.