Maryland Democrats follow NY, Illinois in efforts to limit youth tackle football

The Maryland General Assembly is considering a measure that would allow the state -- not parents or guardians -- to limit children playing tackle football and other contact sports, following similar efforts in two other states with Democrat-controlled legislatures.   

The Maryland measure would prohibit children from playing tackle football and the other sports at publicly supported fields or sites until they reach high school. And it would restrict “headers” in soccer and checking in lacrosse and ice hockey, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Similar bills have been introduced in the Democrat-controlled New York and Illinois legislatures, in efforts to protect developing brains and limit concussions.

The Maryland bill was introduced by Democratic Delegate Terri Hill, a surgeon who said her proposed legislation is based on information suggesting that youth hockey, lacrosse, soccer and tackle football are the highest-risk sports for developing brains, due to the risks of repetitive head trauma.

Hill’s legislation is already facing opposition on several fronts -- including youth league organizers suggesting a potential government overreach.

“To actually ban the entire sport is a little bit ridiculous,” Michael Melvin, who leads a 200-player youth program in suburban Baltimore, told the newspaper. “The game has never been safer for the youth as far as the equipment we have.”

In addition, State Sen. William C. Smith Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, has purportedly decided against sponsoring companion legislation in his chamber, suggesting the House version is “overly broad.”

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan could not be reached Saturday to comment on whether he would consider signing such legislation into law. 

Youth leagues across the country have taken steps to make contact sports safer, which includes putting limitations on contact in football and on soccer headers -- the technique in which players use their foreheads, instead of their feet, to pass or shoot airborne balls.

And football and lacrosse helmets have in the past years been designed to better protect the head.

Hill, whose draft measure also required Marylanders 14 and older who want to play the contact sports to take a class on how participation poses risks to concussions and other brain injuries, also argues that neither the Illinois or New York bill includes an education component.

Though Hill is standing behind her legislation, which now has at least 10 co-sponsors, she told The Sun on Friday that she’s receptive to input from both sides.

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