Common-sense interference

Common-sense interference

Is it government's role to decide whether children will be allowed to play football?

One of the truisms surrounding modern-day government and politics is, the more elected officials fail to fulfill their fundamental obligations — balanced budgets, prudent spending, public safety, etc. — the more grandiose they become in pursuit of other issues.

That is perhaps nowhere more true than in Illinois, where our elected officials have pretty much abandoned the idea of taking care of business. They preside over a politically and financially bankrupt state yet somehow continue to pass dozens of new laws each year.

A perfect example of this phenomenon comes in the form of recently proposed legislation that would ban pee-wee football for children, mostly boys, ages 9-12.

Is it really government's role to take up this issue? Might it not be best left to parents? Indeed, given the tremendous publicity surrounding head trauma for professional and college football players, isn't it already the case that parents are stepping up to their responsibility to look out for their children's best interests?

The legislation was proposed by Democratic state Sen. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills — this being an election year, of course. For further public consumption, it's billed as the Dave Duerson Act in memory of the late Notre Dame and Chicago Bears football star who committed suicide in 2011.

Medical studies later determined that Duerson's brain showed he suffered from CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a condition linked to the kind of repetitive head trauma that occurs in football.

The Duerson case is both tragic and instructive. But it's a bit of a stretch to make the comparison, as this bill clearly does, between pee-wee football players and a professional athlete who played an extremely violent game for many years against the biggest, fastest and strongest athletes the NFL could offer.

Given the existence of pee-wee football in some communities, it has a constituency, although probably a shrinking one.

It may seem harmless enough and may be in most instances. But in our view, there are better ways for children to have fun in sports than to pretend they are Goliaths of the gridiron and embrace the obvious risks.

If they want to run, throw and catch a football, there's flag or touch football. Youngsters can learn the fundamentals of those skills without bashing each other — helmet to helmet — at the line of scrimmage.

Besides, football is a complicated sport, one most children simply aren't prepared to play in its many forms because they usually lack the physical skills that are required.

Then there's the size difference, a factor at all levels of the game. But pee-wee kids who run into the much larger players their own age can take an unnecessary pounding.

If that sounds like an endorsement of the legislation, it isn't. It's a common-sense assessment of what's involved when and if adults form pee-wee teams with volunteer coaches who may — or may not — use good judgment in overseeing their young charges.

Sen. Sente seems to come from a world in which everything that is not mandatory is forbidden. Banning pee-wee football fits neatly into that world view.

In our opinion, parents should be able to continue to make their own judgments and act accordingly on this issue without intrusion from their elected officials in Springfield.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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rsp wrote on February 05, 2018 at 9:02 am

Parents don't always act with their childrens best interests in mind. Sometimes it's about reliving their own childhoods and overcoming their own failures, not about the kids. Maybe the writer should stand on the sidelines and listen to the things that come out of parents mouths even at soccer matches when it's three and four year old kids playing.

There may be a link between earlier playing and CTE. NFL players who played in pee-wee football and any other types of programs at early ages had more damage to their brains than those who didn't start playing so young. They are still trying to understand this condition, including the cause. Right now they have a lot of factors pinpointed to a devastating medical condition. Who wants to stand by and say it's okay to wait and gamble with the lives of young children whose parents might not act in their best interest?