Last week, on Oct. 29, the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Health opened up the floor to discuss a bill that would bar children 12-and-under from playing tackle football.
The result, as expected, was hundreds of bare-bones articles slapped together in 10 minutes containing nothing but a few paragraphs and a headline (something like: “New York Considers Banning Tackle Football”).
It’s hard to say this without sounding cranky, but the majority of news reports these days do more enflaming than informing. They ask open-ended questions about controversial topics because they want your instant, predictable outrage. And, let’s face it, you want to be outraged.
It’s a win-win!
Every newspaper has at some point encountered the philosophical debate of giving readers what they want vs. giving them what they need. Should we force-feed you your vegetables and budget stories or just let you fill up on candy and police blotters? Many opt for the latter, but that’s another topic for another day.
While my example headline was technically true, it’s also a bit misleading in its over simplicity. Joe Reader doesn’t instinctively know that “New York” in this case is a committee made up of 25 elected officials (only three showed up to the hearing and one left mid-way through) and that no vote has taken place.
Let’s be clear about what happened: One of the 150 members of the New York State Assembly, Michael Benedetto (D-Bronx), put forth a bill that would prohibit children 12-and-under from playing organized tackle football.
That bill, which has been co-sponsored by two dozen other elected officials, was then sent to a committee, which is standard practice for any bill. It’s the committee’s job to vet the bill before it goes to the Assembly or Senate floor for a vote when the legislature reopens in January. If it gets through both houses, it would need Gov. Cuomo’s signature to become law.
Benedetto actually first proposed this bill seven or eight years ago after former NFL great, John Mackey, died at 69 years old as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease more commonly referred to as CTE.
Though the bill has never made it out of committee, I was told by a member of the Assembly it is picking up steam from state legislators behind the scenes and may very well end up on the floor for a vote.
So, there is no better time to inform yourself on this issue than now. If you feel strongly about it, I suggest you watch the committee hearing, which was recorded and is available to view at nyassembly.gov/av/hearings.
At 3 hours and 10 minutes, the hearing is a tad shorter than the movie “Titanic.” But I think it’s important for people who have strongly held beliefs to listen to counter-arguments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to an opinion with which I don’t agree and came away thinking, “That was a good point. I’ve never considered that perspective before.”
I started writing a draft of this column before watching the hearing. The mere thought of these sissy state politicians banning tackle football sent me into a tizzy. I wrote these words: “If tackle football goes extinct, it will go extinct on its own. Enough parents will have done their homework and decided against allowing their kids to play. This is an area where I think legislators should stay on the sidelines.”
But the arguments against youth tackle football were persuasive. I have since found myself thinking more deeply about this issue. If I was on that committee, I’d give serious consideration to sending it to the floor for a vote.
You, on the other hand, may come away holding your position even more firmly, which is also fine. But being informed is better than being enraged. When pressed to explain their stances on controversial issues, a lot of people either provide anecdotal evidence or say, “It’s just the way I feel,” which is nonsense. Educate yourself before posting an all-caps rant.
Personally, I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to controversial topics: Consider the other side’s motivation. What is Assemblyman Benedetto trying to accomplish with this legislation? He wants fewer children to suffer a loss of cognitive function later in life. If we start there, rather than viewing him as an evil man who wants to take away football, we can have a better discussion and make the sports we love safer for our kids to play.