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Dave Duerson Act Heads For Debate On House Floor

Jaclyn Driscoll
NPR Illinois

"This bill honors my family's hope and my father's legacy to protect future athletes and the future of football," says Tregg Duerson, Dave Duerson's son. 

Dave was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears who committed suicide in 2011, at 50 years old. In a note left to his family, he outlined his symptoms associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Dave shot himself in the chest in order to preserve his brain, requesting that his family donate it to science. Studies concluded he suffered from CTE. 

Tregg says he understand his father's final act as an effort to "be part of the solution." That solution, he believes, is this bill which bans organized youth tackle football for any child under 12 throughout the state of Illinois. 

Another proponent, Dr. Robert Stern, a professor of Neurology for Boston University and the Director of Clinical Research for the BU Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, says team sports are important, but the safety and wellbeing of children should be taken seriously. Citing peer-reviewed studies, Stern says exposing young children to tackle football is dangerous. 

"In each of these studies we found that the former players who began playing tackle before age 12 had significantly worse cognitive functioning and changes in the brain through MRI scans compared to the ones who started at 12 or older." 

Chris Borland, a Big Ten defensive player of the year, also supports the bill. He says some will argue the game of football is getting safer, but he says that's not true.

"As a two-time captain, I made 420 tackles in four seasons. There's no safe way to do it," says Borland. "To pass the buck to kids to say at 6, 7, 8 years old you should master a skill that adults have been at for a quarter of a century that haven't mastered, and can't master, is intellectually dishonest." 

After more than an hour of testimony, and even a demonstration of a child-sized dummy dressed in football gear being repetitively hit in the head, some lawmakers on the committee still took issue with bill. 

Rep. Sara Wojcicki-Jiminez (R-Leland Grove) says she has concerns with government overreach. “I’m a big believer in personal responsibility.  There isn’t a requirement right now in our state to make their children play football. This is a choice that parents have and they have access to research and different things like that," she says. "We have to be careful when we’re eliminating people’s personal choice.”

Though more than a hundred people registered as opponents of the legislation, none were present at the hearing, prompting a 'no' vote from Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, (D-Oswego). 

"Given the way this has transpired, I don't think that's the way our committee should be run with just one side getting preferential treatment over the other," says Kifowit.  

The hearing had only been scheduled to take testimony, without a vote. The bill sponsor Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills), says she learned of that detail just this week and made last minute arrangements so the matter could be voted on. 

Jaclyn has an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a BS in History form Monmouth College. Prior to reporting, Jaclyn was a social science teacher and department chair at Greenfield High School. Previously, Jaclyn reported for WICS Newschannel 20 where she covered a variety of assignments including courts, politics, and breaking news. She also reported at Siouxland News in Sioux City Iowa, the shared CBS/Fox television newsroom. Her internships included WGN and Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.
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