Sports

Bill to Prohibit Children Under 12 From Tackle Football Advances in State Assembly

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TRENTON, NJ -   A bill proposed which would prohibit children under the age of 12 from participating in tackle football in the New Jersey Assembly is beginning the path through the New Jersey Legislature. The Bill  (A-3760) has been proposed by and is similar, but not identical, to bills proposed in New York, Maryland, Illinois and California, according to its sponsor, Valerie Vainieri-Huttle (D-37)

Vainieri-Huttle is the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, and is a licensed funeral director.  

Her perspective is formed from hearing research from the medical groups, including the Brain Injury Alliance and and American Association of Pediatrics, as well as prominent former professional football players, including former New York Giant linebacker Harry Carson.

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Carson, in particular has been outspoken, stating that after seeing the effects of brain injuries later in life, he will not allow his grandchildren to play tackle football until 14. Citing studies that there is a much larger change of dementia or CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) later in life for those who suffer brain injuries at an early age.

Vainieri-Huttle stated that the bill is in its early stages, and is unlikely to get through the legislature without some changes. What her main goal is to raise awareness of the dangers of concussions and continual impact of the brain in developing youth.

She also notes that children under twelve would still be able to play football, in the form of two hand touch or flag football.  

“I anticipate a great deal of pushback” she stated. She also acknowledged that there is increased awareness in the proper techniques for tackling and not using your head.

"As an organization our number one priority is the safety of our kids. Every year both our football and cheer coaches go through a rigorous certification process which includes but not limited to the following outline, " said Tom Rizk, South Plainfield Football Co-Commissioner. 

Heads up coaching certification process:  

  • All Pop Warner coaches (head and assistants) must register for USA Football. 
  • All Pop Warner coaches (head and assistants) must complete the USA Football Level 1 Coach Certification Course annually.
  • New coaches take the full USA Football Level 1 Course and previously certified coaches take the Re-certification Quiz.

Rutgers Safety Certification:

The curriculum for the Rutgers SAFETY Clinic is based upon the "Minimum Standards for Volunteer Coaches' Safety Orientation and Training Skills Programs" (N.J.A.C. 5:52).

The topics include:

  • Legal Aspects of Coaching
  • Psychological Aspects of Coaching
  • General Coaching Concepts
  • Training and Conditioning Athletes
  • Medical/First Aid Aspects of Coaching

"In addition, we have one AED defibrillator on site at all times, a designated certified Player Safety Coach, and coaches that are Red Cross and CPR certified," said Rizk."Pop Warner’s number one priority has always been the safety of our participants.  Working with USA Football’s Heads Up Football program is the latest step in delivering a safer program to all of our South Plainfield Pop Warner players."

When asked if this was a governmental overreach, Vainieri-Huttle noted, that years ago, initial legislation around smoking and seat belts were similarly unpopular. But as more information from science became available, the restrictions became more accepted.

Her goal is to educate the public on the dangers, and to increase public awareness.

“The first step may be that parents sign a waiver, that states they understand the risks, associated with playing,” Vainieri-Huttle stated.

“I don’t think kids should be playing tackle football until they get to middle school,” said SPHS Head Coach Garrett Cassio. “I do think football gets a bad rap in respect to concussions. During our fall sports season we had 9 students with concussions and only 1 was from football.”  Cassio added the rest of the concussions were from soccer and gymnastics. “How will those athletes be protected,” questioned Cassio.

To become law, this bill will now head to committee. If it clears committee, it will be given two more readings, with possible amendments, before heading to full assembly for a vote. If passed, it would then head to the NJ State Senate for passage, and then the Governor before becoming law.  

The bill reads as follows.

AN ACT concerning youth athletics and supplementing Title 5 of the Revised Statutes and P.L.2010, c.94 (C.18A:40-41.1 et seq.).BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey

1. a. As used in this section:

“Tackle football” means any practice or game of American football where physical contact is used to force opposing players to the ground.
“Youth sports team organization” means one or more sports teams organized pursuant to a nonprofit or similar charter or which are member teams in a league organized by or affiliated with a county or municipal recreation department.
b. A child under the age of 12 shall not be permitted to participate in tackle football offered by a youth sports team organization. A child under the age of 12 shall be eligible to participate in all other athletic activities offered by a youth sports team organization including, but not limited to, touch football or flag football.

2. a. As used in this section, “tackle football” means any practice or game of American football where physical contact is used to force opposing players to the ground.

b. A school district shall not permit a student under the age of 12 to participate in tackle football during interscholastic athletics, intramural athletics, a physical education program, or any other athletic activity offered to students.

3. Section 1 of this act shall take effect six months following the date of enactment and section 2 shall take effect in the first full school year following the date of enactment.

STATEMENT

This bill prohibits children under the age of 12 from participating in organized tackle football programs. Under the bill, children under the age of 12 will not be permitted to participate in tackle football offered by a youth sports team organization. Those children are eligible to participate in all other athletic activities offered by the youth sports team organization including, but not limited to, touch football or flag football.

The bill also provides that a school district may not permit a student under the age of 12 to participate in tackle football during interscholastic athletics, intramural athletics, a physical education program, or any athletic activity offered to students.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by repetitive hits to the head sustained over a period of years. Athletes who begin playing contact sports at younger ages are at a greater risk for neurological impairment later in life, including CTE. Studies show that exposure to tackle football before the age of 12 is associated with a greater risk of neurological impairment than exposure to tackle football starting at or after the age of 12.

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