An Act to amend the public health law, in relation to prohibiting children twelve years old and younger from playing tackle football
Members of the New York State Assembly:
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views on this important legislative proposal.
My name is Michael Kaplen. I chair the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council. I served three terms, as president of the Brain Injury Association of New York State and as chair of the American Association for Justice, Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group. For the last six years I have been a Professorial Lecturer in Law at the George Washington University Law School teaching the only course on traumatic brain injury law in the nation. Additionally, I maintain a private practice of law in Pleasantville, New York specializing in representing individuals with traumatic brain injury.
That is the simple fact in discussing and evaluating the risks to young children engaged in tackle football.
There is only one conclusion to be reached; “football is a concussion delivery system”. The Centers for Disease Control repeatedly confirm, “a concussion is a brain injury.”
It is uncontroverted that:
Allowing children to engage in tackle football is equivalent to allowing them to play Russian roulette.
This legislative proposal will protect the brains of our youth and save them from a lifetime of cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioral impairment. A concussion is not just a bump on the head. There are real-life, permanent consequences. The impact of a traumatic brain injury often remains undetected and is misunderstood by professionals and family members. Additionally, as a child develops and grows, the long-term effects of a concussion and brain injury are often ignored or misinterpreted. Families are left caring for children without the supports they need.
Evidence continues to accumulate. Repetitive head trauma in football poses a significant danger. Children who engage in tackle football have a greater risk of sustaining a life-altering brain injury. It is long overdue for us to protect our children’s brains and prevent needless and preventable injuries.
Change is often difficult. Over the last several years, we have learned about the adverse long-term effects of youth tackle football in causing head injuries and brain damage. Research has established that young players who failed to report concussion symptoms, but endured sub-concussive hits, have suffered significant damage to their cognitive abilities and memory. It is clear we must attend to the bigger picture…to weigh the risk of severe head injury and the future of our young children against the continuation of youth tackle football.
A child’s brain differs from adults. A young athlete's brain is still developing. The effects of a concussion, or even smaller hits over a season, can be far more detrimental, compared to head injury in an older player.
Depending on the exact age at injury and location of damage in the brain, different cognitive and/or behavioral issues may manifest over time as a child’s brain undergoes rapid periods of maturation. A child’s future ability to learn may be compromised. Their body composition, neck circumference, equipment provided, and undeveloped judgment are all risk factors for significant brain damage because of head trauma. The danger of injury is great, but the consequences may not be apparent for years. Only as the brain matures will the full extent of injury and damage be recognized. By then, it will be too late. The permanent brain damage will have already occurred.
Complicating an accurate assessment is that rapid physical recovery may mask the cognitive issues. Parents often observe their child’s improved appearance obscures the ability of others to recognize a child’s brain has been injured. As behavioral challenges and cognitive needs become more evident in school and at home, parents must confront the challenge of identifying whether the concussion could be a cause.
“Safe tackling” is a public relations gimmick promoted by clever, but desperate marketing professionals. This proposal is designed to convince parents it is safe to allow their children to expose their young brains to permanent injury. There is "no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet." The rule changes instituted by youth football leagues are symbolic at best, and deceptive. They cannot be allowed to mask the truth.
Accepting the premise that team sports, including football, promotes positive attributes in our children, does not require tackling. Wouldn’t flag football present a reasonable and safer alternative to children smashing their heads and risking permanent damage?
Protecting children from preventable harm is one of your fundamental mandates. Whether the requirement to use a protective car safety seat, a bicycle safety helmet, remedy exposure to lead paint, or sports concussion management in schools, this legislative body must pursue ways to protect our children, and their very essence, their brains.
I urge you to continue your efforts by endorsing this important legislative initiative.
Our law firm has developed an informational page on legislative efforts to ban tackle football, nationwide, which includes useful medical information, statements by leading authorities in the field, editorials, and a time line on individual legislation. It can be found at: https://brainlaw.com/youth-tackle-football/; further informational material is available at: https://brainlaw.com/brain-injuries/sports-concussions/
Our law firm has also created a video on the dangers of youth tackle football which can be found at: https://brainlaw.com/cds/
Michael V. Kaplen, Esq. is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C. where he teaches the only law course on traumatic brain injury, The Legal Aspects of Traumatic Brain Injury. He is a member of the New York personal injury firm, De Caro & Kaplen, LLP and concentrates his practice on representing victims of brain trauma. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys. He serves as Chair of the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council, a position in which he previously served for seven years. He was president of the Brain Injury Association of New York State for nine years and is former Chair of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group. He is certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and is board certified by the American Board of Professional Liability attorneys in medical malpractice. More information about his firm can be found at: www.brainlaw.com
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