Sonoma State
June 22, 2018
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Could youth football be banned in CA?

By: Irene Hilsendager
February 23, 2018

Yes, a bill is being proposed to ban tackle football until children are in high school. Two assembly members, Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat from San Diego have submitted a bill called the Save Youth Football Act and is aimed at protecting children from brain injury by establishing a minimum age to play in any organized tackle football programs.

It keeps being repeated that during the age of young football players, the brain is going through an incredible time of growth between the ages of 10 and 12. More is said that if you subject that developing brain to repetitive head impacts, it may cause problems later in life, so says Dr. Robert Stern, a BU neurologist in New York.

Even the National Football League has been dragging their feet in acknowledging the risks of the game, which appears to realize the benefit of children avoiding head trauma. The league has begun to promote flag football as a safer alternative. Some youths playing Pop Warner football do run an increased risk of suffering long-term brain damage and this is according to Boston University researchers. 

Safer alternatives exist. It is time that California did away with the high-impact sport for kids until they reach high school age. The Safe Youth Football Act would outlaw 7,500 California youths from playing Pop Warner football. Pop Warner officials say that youth football is safer than soccer however the concern is the long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking.

Researchers writing for a January issue of the Neurology Journal Brain revealed further evidence showing the onset of CTE is caused by repeated hits to the head, rather than concussions.

Shortly after the two California legislators drew up their plan to outlaw tackle football until high school, many angry coaches, parents and former players began a campaign to protect America’s favorite sport. One coach set up a meeting with a Sacramento lobbyist to learn how to engage lawmakers on bills.

Mike Wagner, a Pop Warner official in Los Angeles and an organizer of the growing opposition campaign, describe the bill as completely un-American. Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty hadn’t even formally introduced the bill when he mentioned that he knew it would strike a nerve and it would be a tough conversation.

Somewhere around 53 percent of Americans believe that tackle football is not safe for kids before high school, according to a poll taken of 1,000 adults and released by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Post. Some parents argue that McCarty should just leave the decision to parents.

Youth football in California is spread across many organizations, from Pop Warner to regional leagues, which makes it difficult to determine how many children participate in the sport. 

Researchers said the study McCarty cites has added to growing research suggesting that incurring repeated head impacts through tackle football before the age of 12 can lead to a greater risk for short and long term neurological consequences. Also, more research is necessary before any recommendations on policy or rule changes can be made.

A California law signed in 2014 does limit middle and high school teams from holding more than two full-contact practices per week. It also prevents teams from running full-contact drills and scrimmages for more than 90 minutes in a single day. Athletes who suffer concussions must complete a return-to-play protocol for at least a week under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

The state also requires teams to immediately remove a player suspected of suffering a head injury from the field for the rest of the day and bars them from returning until they receive written clearance from a doctor.

Programs like Heads Up Football, supported by the NFL, teach safer tackling and blocking procedures.