Orchard Park Little Loop Football Players
By Haley Viccaro, Gannett Albany Bureau
Jeff Preval, WGRZ
ALBANY - Lawmakers are grappling over a proposal to limit youth football in New York.
Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County, sacked the measure, saying it would be a rash reaction to recent national reports about the safety of football.
"Talk about being out of bounds, not to mention out of touch," O'Mara said in a statement. "What we need to ban is knee-jerk legislation. What's next? No more fastballs in Little League? Enough."
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, D-Bronx, introduced legislation last week to prohibit children younger than 11-years-old from playing tackle youth football statewide.
Benedetto said he is concerned about young children suffering from concussions or minor injuries during practices and games that could potentially lead to serious health conditions in the future. Recent reports have shown an increasing number of head injuries among college and professional football players.
"It is a sport that emphasizes contact and this has become a dangerous situation for anybody playing a game, but more of a reason for us to look closely at protecting young people," Benedetto said Monday.
According to the CDC, from 2001 to 2009, the number of visits to emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries to the head have increased from roughly 153,000 to 248,000 with the highest rates among men ages 10 to 19.
Meantime, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University have been busy studying safer football helmets and how safe youth are between the lines. A joint study by the two schools one year ago found that the average youth football player suffers 107 head impacts each season and that 59 percent of the them happened in practice and 41 percent of them in the games.
Children as young as five-years-old can play organized tackle football. Youth football teaches children how to play at a young age and is supervised by coaches with no score kept, supporters said.
"When they play tackle football it allows kids to learn the proper technique and how to do it correctly," said Josh Pruce, national director of media relations for Pop Warner, which oversees the sport for more than 250,000 youth across the nation. "It is easier to learn when you are a kid rather than an adult."
Benedetto said he acknowledges that there are regulations in place that protect young children from injuries, but he believes they shouldn't be participating in a contact sport when the chances of injuries could be removed entirely.
Pruce said there are rules to limit the chances of injury during practice, including a restriction on the amount of contact time during a game and a new concussion rule enacted this year.
"There is more injury during practice than during a game, so about a year ago we enacted a concussion rule that says if someone was injured they must sit out and get a note from a doctor before playing again," Pruce said.
Benedetto said his interest in the issue started about three or four years ago when a woman he worked with told him that her son, who was a star running back for a high school football team, was unable to play in college due to multiple blows to the head he suffered over a period of years.
"He never got to play in college because shortly after arriving his injuries finally kicked in and he could focus or even get out of bed," Benedetto said.
Benedetto said that many of his colleagues in the state Assembly have expressed interest in signing the bill as co-sponsors. He also said some senators are considering introducing the bill in the Senate. It's unclear if Governor Cuomo is in support of the bill or not.
It won't be O'Mara.
"First of all, it's a parental decision whether to allow a child to play football. Government has no place in that decision," O'Mara said. "Pop Warner Football has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for millions of American kids. They take seriously their responsibility to provide an experience that's as safe and rewarding as possible."