Speaking outside Johnnie B. Wiley Stadium surrounded by youth football players and coaches, Senator Kennedy says he's urging the lawmaker, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto of the Bronx, to withdraw his measure that would prohibit kids under age 11 from playing tackle football.
"Banning youth football is the wrong approach. It unfairly penalizes our children, and we want to see this legislation withdrawn down in Albany," Kennedy said.
The Democrat gave credit to local youth football leagues that teach kids the proper way to play the game at a young age.
"Youth football helps kids stay in school and keep out of trouble. Banning the sport could have negative consequences on local families," Kennedy added.
Kennedy says he understands the concerns about player safety, but he also feels decisions about playing youth football should be left to the parents, not state lawmakers.
Kennedy understands critics’ concerns related to player safety, but he says there are plenty of ways to keep our children safe while still allowing them to play the game. He feels that decisions regarding whether or not kids are allowed to play youth football should be left up to parents, not lawmakers.
Kennedy supports efforts to reduce and limit the amount of contact that takes place during practice. According to youth football organizers, most teams allow six hours of practice per week. In order to prevent injuries, it is recommended that teams limit contact drills to just two hours or less each week.
Kennedy also thinks teams must re-examine the types of contact drills they include in practice and leagues must better train coaches.
During his remarks Thursday, Kennedy highlighted the impact youth sports has made in boosting academic performance among local kids. In the Buffalo Public School system, chronic absenteeism is a lingering problem, Kennedy said. Studies show that at the kindergarten level, 40 percent of students missed 18 or more days of school in 2010.
Youth sports organizations, like the United Youth Football League in Buffalo, are teaching the basics of the game, and they’re also working with schools to ensure their players attend class daily and achieve academic success, Kennedy said.
“With the UYFL, if players fail to attend class, they are not allowed to practice or suit up on game day. Youth football helps keep kids in school and out of trouble, banning the sport could have negative consequences for local families,” Kennedy said.
Several local coaches, parents and athletes who support the efforts to block the ban on youth football joined Senator Kennedy at the Thursday rally. They included Jeremy Kelley, a West Seneca graduate who recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts; Rich Robbins, head football coach at Canisius High School, who was also named the Buffalo Bills High School Coach of the Year; and Demeris Johnson, director of Community Action Organization's (CAO) Sports program, which oversees inner-city Buffalo football leagues.