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Proposed NYS Legislation For 12-And-Under Kids Misses The Big Picture

I quote the great Al Pacino, in the film ‘And Justice For All,’ as the theme of this column.

“At this point,” Pacino’s attorney character says to a group of lawmakers, “I would just like to say that what this committee is doing, in theory, is highly commendable.”

He then pauses.

“However, in practice, it sucks.”

The New York State Assembly has a proposed bill on the table that would ban youth tackle football for children under the age of 12. At this point, I would just like to say that what this august body is doing, in theory, is highly commendable. Keeping kids safe is certainly admirable.

However, in practice, it sucks.

It is absurd, in fact, and misses the big picture when it comes to youth sports.

Rich Thomaselli Commentary

Now, let’s not make this political. As a parent and a writer I could fill the screen on whatever device you’re on by talking about the insanity of the state deciding what choices we, as parents, should make for our children. That’s a slippery slope, to say the least.

And let’s not make this medical, because the merits of the proposed bill are disingenuous, at best, and severely flawed, at worst. The impetus for this is rooted in the CTE study done on NFL players. While I don’t dispute what the doctors have found in the brains of NFL players, I do have reservations using that as a tenet to have formulated this bill. The research is inadequate. Big difference between guys playing pro football in adult bodies at age 22, 25, 30, and kids who are 8, 10 and 12 years old.

No, instead of talking politically and medically, let’s talk philosophically. This bill misses the point so badly it’s lopsided.

Youth football – all youth sports, really – is about way more than tackles. It’s about camaraderie, teamwork, responsibility, life lessons of how to be a good winner and, more importantly, an even better loser. It’s about forging friendships, overcoming obstacles, learning about how to do your job while placing your faith in teammates to do theirs.

“Football has always been the ultimate team sport to me because it teaches so many life lessons,” said John Jay coach Tom O’Hare.

Former Millbrook head coach and current Lourdes JV coach Sean Keenan has done everything from be a youth player himself, to a high school player, college standout, youth coach, modified coach, JV and varsity coach. Literally, and metaphorically, Keenan noted that the sport teachers youngsters how to get back up after being knocked down.

And while flag football is great, he said, tackle football teaches more values because of the physicality. You learn responsibility to yourself and your teammates go hand in hand.

And Keenan said it has even deeper roots than that.

“Being a fourth-grade teacher and coach, I’ve come to realize how important a male role model has become in today’s society,” Keenan said. “With so many single-parent homes, the youth football coach has become a surrogate father to many of these children.”

Spackenkill coach Clinton DeSouza agreed.

“The more we water the sport down, the more trouble our society will be in,” he said. “Football is a way of developing young men, and tackling is part of the game and part of the development.”

And if we do need to make the technical, physical argument about tackle football for youths, we can point to the incredible strides made in both equipment and teaching by USA Football and its ‘Heads Up’ certification program that instructs players on proper tackling.

In fact, DeSouza – and many, many others – make the argument that the longer you wait to teach players how to properly tackle, the greater the injury risk.

“There’s a big difference between kids who have played tackle football from youth and guys just learning how to tackle in high school,” he said, noting that new players often lower their heads as a first instinct. “It’s part of the process. If they ban (tackling in youth football), you will see a rise in injuries.”

Where the state Assembly goes from here is anyone’s guess. One wonders, however, if they are just picking on football. After all, there are youth boxing programs in the state of New York, with head and body blows. Are we banning that?

There are youth ice hockey programs in the state of New York, with checking (albeit age 13 and above). Are we banning that?

There are gymnastics programs in the state of New York, with kids as young as four and five on a balance beam or parallel bars. Are we banning that?

Sorry, but this is an absurd notion.

I say that not as a sportswriter, but as a parent of two boys, one of whom played football, the other who is currently playing. These words about camaraderie and life lessons and learning responsibility aren’t just waxing poetic about the beauty of football, in particular, and all youth sports, in general.

It’s true.

And we lose a lot if we start imposing laws about banning things that help in the development of our children.

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