Maryland's effort to ban youth tackle football runs into some blocks

Maryland has some proposed legislation designed to bubblewrap youth sports in several areas. If signed into law, it would forbid children from playing tackle football until high school and would outlaw headers in soccer until a certain age is reached. They would also forbid body checks in lacrosse and soccer. All of this is in response to heightened awareness of brain injuries from repeated impacts suffered by some NFL players.

The extreme response isn’t sitting well with everyone, however. The Baltimore Sun reports that an opposition effort, spearheaded by coaches and even some parents, has been launched on local media across the state.

A new bill in the Maryland General Assembly to limit tackle football and headers in soccer for kids in elementary and middle school is absorbing some early hits.

Coaches around the state took to social media and sports talk radio to oppose the legislation filed this week, and a youth football administrator started an online petition that had accumulated more than 2,500 signatures to “stop the bill.” A state senator who explored sponsoring the measure said he had reconsidered because the language seemed overly broad.

Del. Terri Hill, the Howard County Democrat who filed the legislation, said Friday she stood behind it, but was receptive to the swirl of views from both sides.

“I remain open to listening to people’s opinions,” said Hill, a surgeon. “This is going to create debate, and that’s part of the process.”

They’ve started an online petition drive to gather support for slowing this bill down and have already gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

So let’s just ask what I hope would be the obvious question here. Have we made no progress in making helmets and pads more safe for use? I know there’s been a lot of focus on that over the past few years. Also, proper tackling techniques were supposed to be mandatory in training to minimize the number of shots to the head and the velocity of impacts. Do we really have to ban tackle football for Pop Warner and make them play flag or touch football? Most of the guys who go on to play in college or even professionally start earlier than high school. The kids are really going to be at a disadvantage if you make them wait until ninth grade.

If there’s any plus side to this story, at least they’re not only picking on football this time. I’ve wondered here in the past if anyone was going to bring up soccer, where the kids use their heads to spike the ball forward. If getting tackled is bad, that’s got to be on the same level, right? And yet we’re not seeing an avalanche of stories about soccer players with brain injuries. As far as body checking in hockey and lacrosse goes, I wasn’t aware that head injuries were even a thing there except for the fist fights that inevitably break out.

While I hate to give them any more ideas, how about youth boxing leagues? I mean, it’s a sport where your goal is to literally punch somebody in the head until you knock them out. If we’re just going to start banning things, how did that not make the cut?

But seriously, do we have to out and out ban sports now in response to this issue? Couldn’t a bit of common sense and some better equipment and rules changes take care of this?