Former Bear Hillenmeyer supports limiting kids' tackling in practice

SPRINGFIELD — Former Chicago Bear linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is backing a plan to limit tackling in practice for high school and youth football players.

The legislation from state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, could come before state lawmakers this week.

Hillenmeyer has written a letter to lawmakers urging support for Sente's plan, which would limit full-contact tackling in practice to two days per week during the season in an attempt to reduce the risk of long-term injury from concussions. How often young players tackle at preseason practices would be left to coaches' discretion.

“Without it, a rogue, wannabe-Mike Ditka youth coach will continue to have unchecked ability to overexpose our next generation to harm, harm that is avoidable and has long-term implications,” Hillenmeyer wrote.

Hillenmeyer would know. He was released by the Bears after being put on injured reserve in 2010 following his third publicly acknowledged concussion.

Injuries like his — as well as the suicides of a handful of NFL greats that were attributed to brain injuries — have shone a brighter spotlight on the dangers of football in recent years.

“(W)hile I'm a football player through and through, who understands the rigors and demands of preparing young athletes to compete on the football field, I am also well-educated on the latest research around brain injury, return-to-play guidelines,” Hillenmeyer wrote.

Sente's plan originally called for a limit of tackling to one day a week, but she changed it after getting feedback from lawmakers.

It's set to be called for a vote in a House committee Wednesday.

So far, the Illinois High School Association has opposed the plan, saying coaches know best how to keep their players safe.

“Our concern with legislation such as this is while it may be appropriate for NFL or Ivy League, it may not be appropriate for high school leagues,” Illinois High School Association Executive Director Marty Hickman said when the issue was first raised last month. Young players, he said, need to learn how to tackle safely.

Hillenmeyer played for the Bears for eight seasons, including the team's 2007 Super Bowl appearance.

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