Assemblywoman Huttle's proposal would prevent children under 12 from playing

Major changes could be coming to football in New Jersey, at least if a proposed bill passes through the state legislature. On Wednesday, a new law, A3760, was proposed to the New Jersey Assembly's Women and Children Committee that would ban tackle football for children under 12 years old.


Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, the primary sponsor of the bill, cited the greater risks of children developing neurological diseases by playing contact sports at a younger age as a top reason the legislation was introduced.


The proposal would still allow kids under the age of 12 to play touch and flag football.


Similar legislation has been put forward in California, Illinois and New York State senator Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, who recently was a big factor in former Gov. Chris Christie's pocket veto of the controversial co-op law, disagreed with the need for the bill and predicted it would not pass.


Sarlo suggested that safety awareness is on the rise throughout all levels of football, and said that should be the focus of improving player safety rather than banning tackling for younger levels. This includes providing more educational programs to youth coaches to ensure the proper tackling techniques are being taught.





"Most towns are now putting 8-yearolds in pads, but it's very controlled,"

Sarlo said. "I believe it's all going to come down to the leagues, education and awareness and limiting the amount of time they are hitting in practice, and you need to work on form tackling.


"I think the high schools and the NJSIAA can do more educational programs for their recreational programs. Clearly, we are losing kids in football, but I don't think you need to ban it, but you have to make sure you have the right coaches in there."


The legislation was brought up briefly at a monthly Morris County Youth Football League meeting on Wednesday night. Mark Van Winkle, Jefferson Youth Football's events manager and MCYFL rep, grew up playing football, and his 7year-old son, Mark Jr., is supposed to start playing tackle football in the fall. Jefferson youth coaches talk with high school coach Jerry Venturino regularly, making sure both programs are in sync.


"I don't know what limitations they would have. Obviously, running the same plays wouldn't be (possible)," Van Winkle said. "Coaching flag for the past two years, and watching the Super Pee Wee and Pee Wee kids, there's a big difference with the game in general. It's completely changed. You're talking about someone being able to run through somebody, versus having to run past somebody."


Morristown Wildcats president Brian Klinger was unaware of the pending legislation, but brought up many safety measures the New Jersey Suburban Youth Football League has implemented. All coaches are USA Football heads-up certified, and the NJSYFL eliminated kickoffs to "keep the game shorter and safer." The league is ! going to vote on a proposal to have linemen in a two-point stance - hands on knees - rather than the traditional three-point version, to encourage them to lead with their hands, rather than their heads. "If the New Jersey legislature decides to eliminate it, you've got to follow the rules," said Klinger, who noted though the Wildcats haven't noticed a change in enrollment over the years, other programs are missing teams at certain grade levels.


"I don't know if it's going to pass. It sounds sort of far fetched. ... I'd vote against it. At the end of the day, I'd hate to see football go by the wayside, because it's a great sport for kids to learn. All the stuff that comes out of it is good. The camaraderie you develop over youth and high school football is unlike every other sport."


State senator Benjie Wimberly, D-Paterson, is the head football coach at Hackensack and he also disagreed with the bill.


"All my kids played tackle football, and head injuries....[Vainieri Huttle] is a pretty good person, I think she got caught up in it," Wimberly said, citing youth coaches who told him there are more concussions in cheerleading than football.


Wimberly also shared the belief that he thinks the bill will not pass.


"I talked to [Vainieri Huttle] about it, we will have some more sit-down talks on it," Wimberly said. "I have talked to some other legislators, I don't think it's going anywhere."


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Editorial From Morristown Daily Record 4-7-18 Ban youth tackle football? Not just yet OUR VIEW Ban youth tackle football? Not just yet A New Jersey lawmaker wants to ban tackle football for children under 12 years old.

She's not alone. At least three other states are considering similar bans.

The proposals are well intentioned, reflecting increased awareness of the toll the sport takes on the human brain. But they're also begging for a fight with countless parents, players, fans, coaches and everyone else who continues to cherish King Football in this country, and doesn't want to see the entire sport erode at the grassroots level.

Maybe that's the idea. The New Jersey ban, like those proposed in California, Illinois and New York, isn't expected to pass. The sponsor, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, conceded that much. She's thinking more along the lines of starting with a smaller step that might involve parents signing waivers that they understand the risks associated with playing.

A heavy-handed legislative ban would go too far at this stage.

But the proposal does serve as a convenient, high profile discussion point launching a more comprehensive debate on how football should adapt to the health risks about which we continue to learn more and more - nearly all of it troubling.

Baseball may be the national pastime, but football has ruled as America's Game for decades. The sport is at an undeniable crossroads, however, thanks to deepening concerns about brain injuries - specifically CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease which has been discovered in a frighteningly high percentage of deceased football players (one study of 111 brains of former NFL players found all but one with CTE).

More and more ! young players are staying away, opting for other sports, either by their own choice or the direction of their parents.

The National Football League downplayed or outright ignored the growing evidence of the connection between football and brain injuries for years, to its everlasting shame. In time, however, officials bowed to the obvious, and in recent years have increasingly developed rule changes aimed at player safety and in particular reducing head injuries. Helmet-to-helmet tackles and blows to the head have been curbed, and enhanced concussion protocols have been put in place.

Contact in practices has been greatly reduced. But the repetitive smaller blows that occur are more difficult to address without substantially changing the nature of the game.

Player-safety rule changes have filtered down into all levels of football, including youth leagues. Those organizations deserve a chance to make responsible changes, and they should do so amid open, honest discussions with everyone involved. Some leagues may choose to switch to flag or touch football, or offer it as an option.

But as youth coaches have pointed out, teaching young players how to tackle for the first time when they're 12 or 13 isn't exactly conducive to greater player safety.

An outright ban on youth football strikes us as legislative overreach at this point. But we nonetheless applaud the measure for pushing forward a needed discussion.


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