Democratic New York lawmakers are introducing a bill to ban children from playing tackle football.
The John Mackey Youth Football Protection Act, named after an NFL player from New York who died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2011, would ban tackle football for kids 12 years old and younger.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a Democrat who represents the Bronx in New York City, has been trying to get the bill passed for more than 10 years, but he finally has a sponsor in the state Senate, Democrat Luis Sepulveda.
During a press conference in Albany on Thursday, Benedetto called it a “vitally important bill” that will protect young athletes.
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“While the Super Bowl is an awful lot of fun, it’s not fun when you see young children run around, playing a game that they are hitting their heads, dozens to a hundred times a week – brains that are rapidly developing,” he said. “Ninety percent of brain development happens up until the age of 12 years old, give or take a year. During this particular time, why are we putting children at risk for injury to their brains?”
Benedetto noted that the U.S. Youth Soccer National League banned heading before the age of 10.
“Why? To protect the kids brains in soccer,” he said. “Body checking is outlawed in youth soccer leagues up until the age of 14. Why? Because they want to protect the brain. The question is, why hasn’t football, the most dangerous sports when it comes to this, has not said anything about it yet?”
Sepulveda said it’s about time youth football caught up with the science.
“A lot of institutions that have studied this have said kids should not be playing football at a young age, so why this has taken so long I don’t know,” he told CBS 6. “I was asked to be the sponsor this year, and I was enthusiastic about it. I have an 11-year-old, and I do not want him to have any cognitive impairment due to a sport that he enjoys.”
Pop Warner, the largest youth football organization in the country, argues there is “no conclusive proof” that youth football can lead to CTE.
“Many of the nation’s leading medical researchers point out that there is no proven connection between youth football and CTE,” the organization says on its website. “As parents, players, coaches and administrators, we need to know more and we encourage more advanced, unbiased research into this issue.”
Billy Kent, the president of Schenectady-Belmont Pop Warner football, said a ban could wind up hurting kids more once they’re old enough to enter tackle football and haven’t had the necessary training.
“You get a lot faster, you get bigger, you get stronger,” Kent told WNYT. “Without the proper techniques on how to tackle and how to hit, then you can really see a lot of injuries on that level.”
“All the coaches are certified, they have to go through a certain amount of training in order to be able to teach these things to the kids,” he said.
Benedetto’s bill is being reintroduced just in time for the Super Bowl this Sunday, when the Philadelphia Eagles face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Glendale, Arizona.
The bill also comes weeks after football fans watched in horror as Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field.