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Local Column

Olson: Don't take tackling away from kids

We don’t need the state of Illinois to keep children from playing tackle football until they’re 12.

If the boys want to tackle each other, let them.

Let them learn how it feels to chase a kid down, put a shoulder into him and make a tackle. Let them know what it’s like to intercept the ball and suddenly have 11 guys out to get him. Run!

Let them get dirty, let them yell, let them scrape their elbows and knees – let them have an outlet to be boys.

Too often, boys’ physicality, their propensity for being loud, getting dirty and taking risks are discouraged. We spend too much time telling boys to sit still, to not take things apart, to not hurt themselves.

Not every boy has to play tackle football at a young age, or ever. But some boys – and girls, too – want to, and if they do, they should have the option.

Children and their parents should get to decide if their kids play tackle football or flag football, just as children and their parents get to decide if the child learns tap or hip-hop dancing.  

This week, a proposal dubbed The Duerson Act was introduced in the state Legislature. If passed, it will place a statewide ban on children younger than 12 playing tackle football.

I respect that some people who are endorsing this proposal have been affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Dave Duerson, a member of the terrifying 1985 Bears defense, took his own life at age 50 as a result of his condition.

That’s terrible. I loved watching Duerson play as a kid, and I am sorry for what happened to him and others who struggle with the aftereffects of years spent playing football.

But that doesn’t mean that we need to shut down youth tackle football leagues.

The game has come a long way. When I played as a kid, we had one coach who smoked cigarettes while talking to us in the huddle. Today, coaches receive safety certifications from USA Football, and independent trainers are present at many games.

Fewer children are choosing to participate, but the games still are going.

If you want to see what 8-year-olds playing football looks like, there are loads of highlights online. I found a 2013 flyweight matchup between Sycamore and Genoa-Kingston. Flyweight kids can be up to 8 years old and weight about 66 pounds on average.  

There are some hits delivered. Nothing scary – just enough to make you feel alive, followed by the approval of coaches and cheers from the stands. At one point, a player from Genoa-Kingston smacks into a Sycamore player near the sideline and gets an approving “Good boy!” from the sidelines.

About 12½ minutes in, a kid from Sycamore runs the ball up the far sideline, his teammate blocking for him on his way to the end zone.

Everyone’s yelling as he crosses the goal line. One boy is jumping up and down, his hands in the air. It’s a scene of joy and excitement.

We shouldn’t take that away.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-757-5549, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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