Head to head: the controversial debate in New York over youth tackle football

WBNG (Johnson City, NY)

February 18, 2002 (WBNG) — The future of football is in question. A proposed bill to ban twelve and under tackle football in New York state has parents, politicians, and professionals in the midst of a heated debate.

Now pegged the “John Mackey Youth Football Protection Act,” Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto originally introduced the bill in 2013.

“If we see a danger to our children, we’re bound to act to correct it,” said Benedetto.

The proposed legislation would place a ban on 12 and under tackle football. Assemblyman Benedetto points to science, arguing “the longer you play tackle football, the more apt you are to have problems later in life.”

Dr. Utsav Hanspal, a concussion specialist and Sports Medicine physician at Lourdes, argues that may not be the case. Dr. Hanspal says instead, “based on the number of concussions, or number of hits to the head, that would be a better predictor than how long you play a certain sport.”

When you combine that with an even younger player, Dr. Hanspal says that is where the cause for concern may lie. “When you have injury to an immature brain, you may theoretically have higher rates of disruption which may take longer for the brain to heal itself.”

The evidence is limited, but Dr. Hanspal suggests even if there is no correlation, it is better to be safe, rather than sorry down the road.

Some local parents disagree. Chenango Forks mother Jessica Beadle has two sons playing football.

“To a certain degree, you have to take risks,” said Beadle.

Her nine-year-old son Colin currently plays in the Chenango Forks youth league. When asked his favorite part of the game, Colin says it’s the hitting itself. “When you get a good hit off, it just feels great.”

Beadle believes the decision should be left up to the parents, not the politicians, adding that for she and her husband, it’s still a very personal choice.

That choice is one that New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Dr. Robert Zayas is advocating for.

In October, a hearing discussing the bill brought the subject to light once again. Dr. Zayas testified at the hearing, arguing that football isn’t the only sport to be concerned over.

“We have to change the conversation to a football concussion debate or discussion to a sports safety concern.” Zayas added that placing an emphasis on football sends the wrong message to parents, saying “parents in other sports may be led to believe that concussion is a football injury, when that’s simply not the case.”

Assemblyman Benedetto counters this, arguing other sports don’t compare. “Every play, the object is to hit the other player. Every play. And not just hit them, but to tackle them. To bring them violently down to the ground. And that’s why football more than any other sports, merits what I’m doing.

Concussion experts agree, there may be reason to be concerned. Dr. Hanspal reminds us “concussions rates are still pretty high in football and those can have detrimental effects.”

Assemblyman Benedetto says he is still working with other legislators and he does not currently have a senate sponsor for the bill. As of right now, the decision remains up to the parents.

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