Series produce thrills

Rich Fyle column

From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

It was not uncommon for me a long time ago when I was 12 years old to play tackle football with other neighborhood kids. It was a frequent afterschool activity in the fall.

I gave out some big hits to ball-carriers and I took plenty of shots, of course with no pads and helmets, as an underweight pre-teen. I did not later play high school or college football. I knew when to call it quits — at about age 15.

For my brother-in-law, he was not so lucky. He played youth tackle football and later two high school varsity seasons in the early 1980s as a two-way lineman. In 2012, he developed a speech problem, now mostly slurred, but he’s still in good physical shape. He was diagnosed with a very rare neurological disease. Specialists told him tackle football contributed to this, and had told him (then 49 and now 56) that he probably had about a decade left to live.

Advocates appeared last week in front of the state Assembly’s committee on health to recommend that tackling be banned for children ages 12 and younger. Opponents, or the state’s football community, argued that such a ban would stunt players and not conclusively protect them from degenerative brain disease.

A proposed bill was introduced — John Mackey Youth Football Protection Act — that would allow only flag football for players under age 13 in New York. Mackey, an NFL Hall of Fame tight end, died in 2001 at age 69 from dementia, believed to be the result of repeated head trauma as a player.

NYU’s chief neurologist argued that constant hits to a developing brain could lead to cognitive and psychological problems later in life, including potentially CTE, a degenerative neurological disease that has been conclusively linked to career football players.

Criticism has grown in recent years after studies tying the sport to CTE. A player’s risk for developing the disease rose by 30 percent for each year they played the sport, the study found. Opponents have said the science is inconclusive and argued that a ban on youth tackle football is unfair since recent rules have made the sport safer.

I respect the knowledgable people with Pop Warner Football, teaching youths the right way to play the game, and improvements with helmets and overall player safety. Injuries and head collisions are casualties of the game, regardless of age — even in the NFL.

High school football currently provides exciting moments with state playoffs on the horizon. But there’s definitely value in letting 12-and-under youths delay tackle ball until they’re full-fledged teens.

Lawmakers will consider the proposed bill in January.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

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