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Fifteen months after the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI)—a Boston-based non-profit organization founded to advance the study, treatment, and prevention of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups—began advocating nationally, and specifically in Illinois, for limits to off-season high school football practice, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) held a special vote and passed a bylaw modification that eliminates full-contact football activities in the summer.
The announcement of this bylaw late last monthserves as the first victory in SLI’s campaign to provide high school football players the same protections as professional football players. As advisors to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), SLI co-founders Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski campaigned for limits in full-contact practice in the NFL, and the NFLPA successfully negotiated to eliminate off-season contact practice and allow only 14 days of full-contact during the 18 week season.
“A football player’s risk of concussion and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that can lead to dementia, appears to be correlated to their lifetime brain trauma. NFL players recognized that and fought for limits. Since high school football players can’t negotiate like NFL players, we chose to fight for them,” said SLI executive director Chris Nowinski, a former All-Ivy defensive tackle at Harvard University.
“There is no evidence at this time that limiting full-contact practice increases the risk of any other injury – or even lowers the quality of play. We hope other states, as well as youth programs, follow suit and set rational limits to brain trauma for youth and high school football players,” said Dr. Cantu, SLI medical director and a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine.
SLI announced the initiative to target the 29 states still allowing off-season full-contact high school football at the 2013 Super Bowl and immediately began campaigning in Illinois, as IHSA rules allowed more days of full-contact off-season football than any other state, with 20.
“We believe this revision minimizes risk to football student-athletes, while allowing for the teaching of appropriate fundamentals,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman in an announcement issued by the IHSA. “This is another important step in making high school football as safe as possible, while putting all of our schools on an even playing field regarding football activities during the summer.”
While Illinois is the first state to revise their off-season contact bylaw, six states have responded to SLI’s separate call to set limits to in-season full-contact practices: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, and Texas. SLI also consulted with The Ivy League on their practice limits announced in 2012.