The New York State Assembly will soon vote on a new piece of legislation that, if passed, would stop youth football leagues and schools from allowing kids to play tackle football. Authored by New York State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, the bill is called the John Mackey Youth Football Protection Act. It is named after a star N.F.L player who died after suffering from symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Specifically, the new bill would bar any child under 13 from playing tackle football. The bill has no co-sponsors in the state Senate and as a result is unlikely to pass despite the fact that research linking long-term brain disease to repeated head trauma is solid and there is plenty of reason to believe that young players suffer the consequences of repeated hits.
The chief reason scientists are specifically concerned with trying to change the sport for kids under 12 is that in almost all cases until they’re teenagers, most people’s brains aren’t developed enough to heal themselves after a huge impact. Researchers have also found that as well as not having fully developed brains, younger neck bones often lack the strength to support the football helmet. If the neck isn’t strong enough to support the helmet, the helmet then becomes a lot less effective at preventing injury. While safer alternatives for kids like flag-football have grown in popularity (largely thanks to advocacy from NFL players), legislation that looks to alter the way that football is played in America will face roadblocks.
Still, it is possible that changes will come to football one way or another because the growing medical consensus on brain trauma concerns parents. Right now, more kids are signing up to play basketball and baseball than football. Youth football enrollment is down roughly 20 percent nation wide from 2011. Given that, it is possible that market forces will change how youth football is played before legislation can do so. Still, it is indicative of growing concerns that such legislation is bound to find some — albeit meager — support.