Chad Arnold, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Published 9:53 a.m. ET Oct. 31, 2019 | Updated 2:34 p.m. ET Oct. 31, 2019
As kids head back to school, you may want to rethink whether your child should play tackle football.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
ALBANY, N.Y. – Lawmakers held a hearing this week in New York City on legislation that would prohibit children under 12 from playing tackle football in New York.
Similar proposals have languished in the state Legislature for years, but Tuesday’s hearing comes as criticism of the sport’s safety grows after several high-profile studies linking the sport to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
A study released by the Boston University School of Medicine this month found the longer a person plays tackle football, the more likely they are to feel the effects of the neurodegenerative disease.
“The research has discovered that the single best factor that best drove whether or not they developed CTE is how many years they played tackle football,” said Christopher Nowinski, co-founder of The Concussion Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to raise awareness of the dangers of head injuries.
Nowinski was among officials on both side of the debate who testified at the legislative hearing as lawmakers consider the bill to ban youth football under 12 when they return to the state Capitol in January.
Nowinski pointed out the Boston University study found 223 out of 266 former football players had CTE, which has been linked to depression and other cognitive disorders. A player’s risk for developing the disease increased by 30% for each year they played the sport, the study found.
But youth football advocates say the science is inconclusive and argued that such a ban is unfair because new protocols and rules have made the sport safer in recent years. They also pointed how there is no legislation seeking to regulate other sports that carry the risk of concussions, like gymnastics and soccer.
“While a lot of attention has been focused on concussions in football, there’s not been a corresponding level of concerns for head injuries in other sports,” Robert Zayas, executive director of the state’s High School Athletic Association, testified Tuesday.
A closer look
Tuesday’s hearing can be traced back to 2017 when Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto introduced legislation that would prohibit children under the age of 13 from participating in tackle football.
The bill failed to gain traction at the time, but a revised version that would bar children 12 and under from playing the sport was reintroduced earlier this year.
Several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have similar bills.
“All of these hits, they don’t necessarily cause concussions and usually do not. But all of these hits causes mass accumulation of blows to the head that damage the development of the brain,” Benedetto said after proposing his original legislation.
Benedetto was joined by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, during Tuesday’s hearing.
Nowinski echoed similar sentiments, saying that some children receive up to 500 blows to the head in the course of a season while playing youth football, which impacts still-developing brains of children.
He likened recent studies on CTE to early studies that linked lung cancer to cigarette smoking and pointed out how it took decades to pass regulations on the tobacco industry.
He urged lawmakers not to make the same mistakes surrounding youth football.
“No other major team sport exposes children to that many head impacts,” he said.
What proponents say
But youth football advocates argued that limiting the age to play tackle football is arbitrary and pointed to rule changes that they say have made the game safer in recent years.
“Today’s game is safer than ever before,” Scott Halenbeck, CEO of USA Football, the sport’s governing body, testified.
Halenbeck said greater education around safety and concussions is “the new normal.”
He pointed to mandatory certification programs for coaches on tackling safety and rule changes in recent years that prohibit certain kinds of tackling, like leading with the head.
And the organization’s efforts to reduce contact in the sport is ongoing, Halenbeck said.
“USA Football’s intense focus on safety of young athletes has positively changed the culture of youth football … and we’re inspired to continue to do more,” he said.
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Lawmakers said the hearing will give them more information as they consider the bill next year.
Follow Chad Arnold on Twitter: @ChadGArnold
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