No-tackle football a ‘knee-jerk reaction,’ coach says

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — If Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto had his way, children younger than 14 playing football would play a different game, one that doesn’t involve tackling.

Benedetto said the game of football is so dangerous, it needs drastic changes across the state.

That doesn’t sit well with Ray Turpin, president of Western New York’s largest youth football and cheerleading organization. It’s also not the first time he’s heard of Benedetto, and his attempts to change the game of which Turpin has been a part for decades.

“I think a lot of it is knee-jerk reaction to the movie “Concussion,” and all the national media that hit the national football league (regarding concussions and longterm brain injuries of players), Turpin said.

Previous attempts to float such a bill in Albany haven’t gained much momentum. And Turpin believes the outcome won’t be any different this year.

“There’s not a lot of people signing on to it, because when the rubber hits the road, they’re seeing that a lot of things are being done to handle brain injuries and traumatic brain injuries for football players and cheerleaders,” he said.

Turpin is president of the Niagara-Erie Youth Sports Association, which represents more than 2,200 football players and more than 1,500 cheerleaders. That means Turpin is in charge of more than 3,700 brains. And his aim is to protect his players.

“I believe that there is inherent risk in anything that we do,” he said. “So what do we do? We try to mitigate the risk, we try to reduce that potential hazard as much as possible.”

That’s why his organization has nationally trained coaches and physical trainers on the sidelines of every game. They’ve adopted national guidelines for safer practices with less hitting and they’ve for years endorsed what’s known as heads-up tackling and blocking, which places the impact on the shoulders instead of the head.

“You gotta have kids active. You gotta have them involved,” he said. “They key is providing them with as safe an environment as you possibly can.”

Turpin also realizes there’s a national movement to provide alternatives to youth football to invite broader participation, particularly as parents are growing increasingly wary of head injuries at young ages.

In fact, the national youth football organization, USA Football, held a conference last week in Orlando to continue the discussion on a modified game. Turpin was there.

Modified youth football shrinks the field. There’s no kickoffs and special teams and players on the field are reduced from 11 to seven. Players still tackle one another, but the severity of hitting is diminished because of the shortened field. Players are also given a chance at every position, so there’s greater participation.

“The intention is to, almost be instructional,” Turpin said. It’s to teach the kids the game without having to go 70 yards to score a touchdown. It’s a way to introduce the game on a little bit different level.”

The program is still being studied for its effectiveness and safety, and modified games likely won’t be rolled out across the country for several years. Once enough data is gathered, the program could also find its way to Western New York, Turpin said.

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