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For Some, Concussion Dangers Are Enough To Ban Football At Public High Schools

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A recent game involving Oak Park River Forest High School. (CBS)

A recent game involving Oak Park River Forest High School. (CBS)

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(CBS) — Football is as popular as ever, but the risks are as well-documented as ever, too.

Just take a look at what happened to Bears players Shea McClellin and Jay Cutler over the weekend.

But experts say the danger of concussions are even greater for younger players, which is why there is now a focus on protecting them. In some cases, there is a call for the game to be banned at the public-school level.

But how realistic is that in Illinois. CBS 2’s Rob Johnson reports.

Homecoming at Oak Park River Forest High School means football, but now new attention has been focused on making the game safer for the kids.

CBS 2 spoke to John Stelzer, athletic director at the school, says officials are cautious, even when injured student athletes want to return to the field.

“If you have a broken leg or broken arm you don’t return to play until the injury is fully healed, and we try to get them to understand that a concussion and a head injury is the same way,” he says.

Still, the medical community remains concerned about the impact of football on young brains.  Boston University’s Robert Cantu literally wrote the book on “Our Kids and Concussions,” and is one of the foremost authorities on the concussion issue.

“We believe that kids under the age 14 should not be playing collision sports as they’re currently being played,” he says.

Medical research shows that repeated head shots of any kind can cause degenerative brain disease. It also has shown up in the brains of dozens of deceased ex-athletes. That’s why the League of Fans is calling for football to be banned at the public school level altogether.

“That’s primarily because we’re using public taxpayer dollars to fund an activity that damages the brain, when were supposed to be enhancing the brain in our schools,” Ken Reed, the league’s sports policy director, says.

At Oak Park River Forest, parents certainly were aware of the dangers of the game. But they’re hoping the awareness of the concussion issue will help their kids play and stay safe.

Gail Rosseau is not just a football mom, she’s a neurosurgeon.

“There’s been a tremendous change in the culture. All the athletes know it’s better to miss one game or even a season than to risk your brain,” Rosseau says.

Gaylor Minett, Sr. played football in high school and college feels differently about the sport now.

Football “needs to be eliminated – totally,” he says.

That’s because he’s worried. His 18-year-old son, Gaylord Jr., sustained at least a dozen concussions by his doctor’s count.

“My memory’s kind of off … I slur my words sometimes,” he says.

Chicago personal injury attorney Flip Corboy says the likelihood of a ban at the public school level in Illinois is very low. He says that’s because the legal bar to even get to trial is so high.

He says schools would have to show things like intentional disregard, utter indifference, or reckless indifference. That, Corboy says, is hard to prove.

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