Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto's Bill to Ban Youth Football Has Little Support

Christopher Farber
Brownsville's Mo Better Jaguars.
America's views on youth football are shifting quickly. This became particularly apparent on Thursday, when ESPN reported that participation in Pop Warner dropped by 10 percent from 2010 to 2012, and Robert Morris University released the results from a poll showing that 40 percent of respondents supported a ban on kids playing tackle football before high school.

But if these stats are early signs of football's decline, they are very early signs. Football is America's Game, entrenched in the culture. It is the product that drives a multi-billion-dollar company. It is the thing we watch most each week and each year. "It is righteous, and only a jackass would cancel it," Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 2004,

Into that quicksand steps Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who in February became the first legislator in America to introduce a bill banning youth football in his state. His Thursday stood in contrast to the data about how much people were turning against football.

"I received a awful lot of criticism about this bill," Benedetto, who represents the 82nd Assembly District in the East Bronx, said at a press conference that day, the Times-Union reported. "I have certainly received dozens of emails for and against -- mostly against -- this proposal, I'll be honest."

See also: Our cover story on the Mo Better Jaguars, a Pop Warner team in Brownsville, Brooklyn

The bill Benedetto drafted months ago proposed prohibiting kids age 10 and younger from playing tackle football anywhere in New York.

"This is absolutely the first we have heard of any state doing something like this," Pop Warner's executive director, John Butler, told the Daily News in February. "Frankly, it is disturbing."

The Robert Morris poll suggested that such a proposal might find some sympathetic ears -- 47.6 percent of respondents said that they favored barring contact football for kids below middle school age. But Benedetto did not find such support at the statehouse. According to the Times-Union, only six other assembly members signed on to back the bill. Benedetto has yet to find a state senator willing to sponsor it.

See Also: Early Sign of Football's Decline: Pop Warner Participation Dropped 9.5 Percent in Two Years

Which brings us to his reason for the press conference on Thursday, where Benedetto announced that he was changing the bill so as to ban football for kids younger than 14.

And while not a single politician joined Benedetto behind the podium, Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the leading neurologists studying the brains of football players, did.

"When I introduced the bill and arbitrarily selected the age of 10 years old and below, it was figuring it would be more politically pliable to get the bill passed," said Benedetto. "Two things happened since then: Number one, I realized it will be just as difficult to get the bill passed with 14 being the age as 10 -- there's absolutely no difference in my mind. Secondly, listening to Dr. Cantu and the studies on brain development, I just came to the simple conclusion that if you're going to do this, let's do this right."

Next: Cantu's thoughts on the matter.

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