by Rick Snider

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier still can’t walk on his own two months after suffering a spinal injury. New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks suffered a gruesome head injury in Super Bowl LII on Sunday.

It’s a violent sport where grown men accept the physical risks. But Maryland Del. Terri Hill plans to submit bills barring children less than 14 years out from playing tackle football, checking in lacrosse, or heading in soccer. She also wants to mandate a licensed health care official trained in concussion risk and management at games and practices using public facilities.

The cost of medical staff at practices and games is simply prohibitive, but deciding how young is too young for the clap of pads is worth considering. Some youth leagues have five-year-olds in pads. That’s simply ridiculous.

Young children should play flag football instead. They’re still learning the game without great risk of injury. Whether contact should start at age 10, 12 or 14 is debatable and largely dependent on each child’s readiness. Mandating no contact until 14 is subjective.

One reason NFL players are paid so well is to compensate for risk. Shazier’s career is over at age 25 with lifelong health consequences pending. But, Shazier is an adult who knew the risks. Children can’t make that decision.

Hill’s bill will surely be ignored by the Maryland legislature too busy with bigger issues. And, it has limited effectiveness because private leagues such as Pop Warner aren’t governed by schools. However, some youth leagues use school property for practices and games, so it may cause those leagues to conform or find new locations.

Advocates of contact football at a younger age might claim it makes kids tougher. That’s not the goal. Youth football should focus on teamwork, reaching goals, discipline and exercise. It’s not about hitting someone hard. There’s time for that in high school. And for those who think their child is heading to the NFL, 99.9 percent of you are delusional.

Common sense should rule more than a state law when protecting our youth. Maybe Hill is right over barring contact for those less than 14, but, hopefully, parents don’t need a state law to do the right thing.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.

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