Benedetto butting youth football

A Bronx elected official’s new bill banning youth tackle football because of its risk for brain damage has the borough’s football coaches and organizers feeling blitzed.

East Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto announced Thursday, Nov. 14 that he had revised a bill calling for a ban on 10-and-under organized tackle football he first introduced in February.

Now Benedetto’s proposed law, the first of its kind in the United States, would make the sport illegal for kids under age 14.

The assemblyman cited evidence from university studies that suggest that young athletes enduring repeated head injuries face a greater risk of brain damage later in life. University study

Joining Benedetto on the podium in Albany was Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, whose research shows that even smaller, lower impact hits – damage too minor to be considered a “concussion” – cause serious damage to undeveloped brains.

If passed, the bill would either shut down the borough’s youth football leagues, or force them to play a safer but watered-down version of the sport.

Benedetto’s bill would “cripple” the Warrior Football Club, an intramural league that plays at Rice Stadium in Pelham Bay, square in the assemblyman’s district, said league director Jay Demers.

He said that in his 55 years of coaching in the league, he has yet to witness even one concussion on the field. Players in his league are taught not to launch themselves head first into tackles and simply do not move fast enough for head injuries to be a concern, he said.

“We just don’t see it, not at this level,” he said. “Our players tackle standing up.”

Hitting leagues

Benedetto’s bill would also hit citywide Pop Warner leagues hard. A ban on youth football would put a wrench in the youth league’s recent trend of sending more and more alumni to colleges with athletic scholarships, said Lloyd Rodriguez, the league’s organizer and coach of the Brooklyn Pitbulls.

“The time learning how to tackle the right way at a young age, or developing vision as a running back, you can’t replace that,” Rodriguez said.

The majority of Pop Warner players come from poorer black and Hispanic neighborhoods and view playing football as a possible route to a college education, or even a shot at playing in professional leagues, Rodriguez said.

“I’m worried about what will happen if you take away that childhood dream,” he said.

Benedetto expects that getting the bill passed will be an uphill battle. He is still seeking a co-sponsor for the legislation in the state Senate. But instead of backing down, he decided to double down.

“I just came to the simple conclusion that if you’re going to do this, let’s do this right,” he said at the press conference.

Benedetto said that he would also introduce legislation banning the practice of “heading” the ball in soccer – players using their heads to butt the soccer ball.

“I understand that it is a process,” Benedetto said. “People are reluctant to change their views on something they grew up with. But we need to protect these kids at any cost.”

Ben Kochman can be reach via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

More from Around NYC