A Legislative Campaign to End Youth Tackle Football

Supporters of the bill have said it's necessary to protect children from the threat of long-term cognitive defects, which research has suggested can result from repeated head injuries, including concussions.

Supporters of the bill have said it's necessary to protect children from the threat of long-term cognitive defects, which research has suggested can result from repeated head injuries, including concussions. Shutterstock

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A lawmaker in New York reintroduced a bill to ban tackle football for young children, continuing a debate over the safety of the sport.

Children 12 and younger would be banned from playing tackle football in the state of New York under a bill proposed in the state Assembly.

The legislation, submitted by state Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a Democrat from the Bronx, would still allow younger children to play, practice or “otherwise participate in any form of football which does not involve tackling.” Schools or athletic leagues that do not comply with the policy could face fines of up to $2,000.

Benedetto has introduced similar bills in the past six years, none of which have advanced through the legislature. The change is necessary, he has said, due to a growing body of research that links tackle football to long-term cognitive and neurological problems, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries like concussions. Underscoring those concerns is recent research from Boston University that found that the risk of CTE doubles after just three years of playing football.

“Research over the last decade has shown that concussions and sub-concussive blows have a negative impact on brain development in young children,” Benedetto wrote as justification for this year’s iteration of the bill. “Prohibiting organized contact football in our youngest children will better protect them from sustaining serious head injuries until their bodies mature to a point where it will be safer for them to play.”

The Assembly Committee on Health held a hearing on the bill Tuesday in Albany, where T.J. Abraham, a 42-year-old former college player, asked legislators to support the proposal. Abraham, a doctor, retired from his medical practice after being diagnosed with dementia, a condition he feels certain is a direct result of his years playing football.

“I do not want to see anyone lose what I’ve lost or experience this disease,” he said in his testimony. “I strongly urge you to ban tackle football at the age of 12 and younger in the state of New York.”

But youth football advocates urged caution, saying that the industry has listened to the growing concern from parents and doctors and responded by implementing measures to increase player safety. Those include updated safety standards and new coaching protocols that emphasize “developmentally appropriate skills,” said Scott Hallenback, executive director of USA Football, the national governing body for amateur football.

“We understand and respect the concerns parents have about their children’s health and wellbeing—in all sports. And we believe that responding to those concerns is critical to making football more inclusive and accessible,” he said. “Parents do not want their government telling them when their kids can play football. We hear this from them often. Instead, they want to make informed decisions for themselves.”

Legislation to ban or limit youth tackle football has been proposed in several other states. A lawmaker in Maryland, for example, has twice floated a bill to ban tackle football for children under 14, a proposal that failed both times to gain traction. Similar legislation, banning tackle football for kids until eighth grade, is currently advancing in the Massachusetts legislature.

Benedetto’s bill is awaiting a vote from the Assembly Committee on Health, but related legislation has fared well in New York this year. In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill—also sponsored by Benedetto—that requires tackle football programs for kids to provide parents and guardians with informational packets detailing the risks of concussions and sub-concussive blows.

"The medical research on the long-term effects of concussions and sub-concussive hits continues to evolve and it is essential that we provide the parents of young athletes with the latest up-to-date information," Cuomo said in a statement. "Parents should have the facts when it comes to the wellbeing of their children and access to this information will help with decision-making and encourage best practices on the field."

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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