By Benjamin Joe
Though the New York Legislature is out of session, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello wants to start the grass-roots conversation on a bill that is likely to pass if opposition does not stop it.
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, 82nd District, Bronx, for the first time in 2013 and likely to be introduced again, is a ban of tackle football for youth ages 13 and under.
“Our position is that, right now, the youth, they train them. They start with flag football, but they teach them all the proper basics (of tackling),” Morinello said. “The coaches have to be certified; the programs have to be governed by the league. … The earlier you train them properly, the better off they are learning the skills. … (To) not allow them the ability to learn at an early age actually can become more damaging than helpful. … It should be discussed and gone over to try and establish what is the best practice and what’s best for the sport.
“What we’re trying to do is to show there is support for keeping it as it is and making sure all of the safeguards are built in.”
At a rally attended by at least 50 youth players and their parents, as well as coaches and press, Morinello kicked off the conversation about football and safety.
One of the attendees, New York State Sen. Robert Ortt said, “There’s not one person in this room who doesn’t care for the safety of these young people here. Not one person. ... I was forced to play sports because my parents believed that by playing team sports taught me a lot of positive things in life. … You are becoming better young men; you’re becoming better citizens; you’re becoming better teammates and those are all things that will come in very, very handy when you become older.”
“You’re also learning to compete in a proper way,” he continued. “One of the battles in government in legislature is always protecting individual freedom versus government overreach. And who knows better? Is it the parents or is it Albany? I’m always going to side with parents.”
Ortt said, “To me this is a larger issue. I think this is indicative of a larger push against the sport of football. There was a legislator, a senator from Manhattan … on the floor (while) we were having a debate on mixed martial arts, she said if she could ban the NFL she would.”
The rally went on with several speakers discussing the subject. Morinello noted that football requires a “muscle memory” that comes from proper training. Others said safety measures are more severe than they’ve ever been, and would continue to be, making a ban on tackles unnecessary. They cited an example: a two-week wait before any action on the field after an injury.
Dr. Chris Nowinski comes from a different point of view. He is the CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
He said, “I didn’t come to the conclusion that youth football should be banned until I studied brains for 10 years. ... Most parents haven’t done that, so most parents, I don’t believe, understand the evidence linking football to CTE.”
According to a website recommended by Nowinski, www.tacklecanwait.com, CTE is “a progressive brain disease that can cause problems with mood, behavior, thinking, and memory. It may lead to dementia or eventual death.”
“We are hoping that this discussion will help them look at the evidence and come to better decisions even without a law,” Nowinski said.
Nowinski said his group had just released a study looking at the brains of 166 football players showing that the odds of developing CTE go up 30% every year the player is active in football.
“We have seen CTE in one football player who just played youth football,” he said. “We’ve seen it in nearly 20 football players who never played beyond high school. We’ve seen CTE in football players who’ve played fewer than five seasons, and overall we’ve seen CTE in about 85% of over 300 brains of football players we’ve studied.”
“The risk to developing CTE is not correlated to how many concussions you’ve had,” Nowinski said. “The evidence is very clear that football players who get hit in the head hundreds of times can develop brain damage.”
For these reasons, Benedetto, told the Tribune, he felt that tackling for those under 13 should not be an option.
“I’ve been working for seven or eight years, introducing this bill,” he said. “I’ve been following 10 years on the issue of concussions and the impact of subconcussion hits to the head on developing brains and mental health in the future. Their brains are developing so rapidly, from ages 5 to 12, and the intent of this bill is to protect young brains.”
“The government steps in when required,” Benedetto said, citing helmet laws, seat belt laws and sale of cigarettes. He also noted USA Hockey does not allow body checking until 12, that U.S. Youth Soccer doesn’t allow heading the ball for players under 11.
“Starting later doesn’t harm the ability in football,” he said. “It didn’t harm players like Tom Brady.”
“This is an important issue and it’s an issue we’re going to start dialogue on how safe it is,” said Morinello at the rally. “(We’re going to) get people to understand what it’s all about.”