To save youth football, California bill would limit full-contact practices
Parents, coaches launch opposition campaign to save tackle football in California
Young football players would be restricted to just two 60 minute full-contact practices each week if lawmakers approve a new bill aimed at protecting kids from brain injuries.
The bill from Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, has support from youth football leagues. It’s similar to a 2014 law that limited full-contact practices at high schools and middle schools to two 90-minute sessions in a week.
The bill’s supporters view it as a means to head off more restrictive proposals that would ban full-contact practice outright. Last year, Assembly Democrats Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego offered a bill that would have prohibited tackle football for children under age 12.
“We see this as a necessary step to advance our sport while preserving the rights of thousands of Californians to choose to play youth tackle football,” said Joe Rafter, president of the California Youth Football Alliance, one of the groups that supports the bill, in a release.
Last year’s bill by McCarty and Gonzalez Fletcher attracted a firestorm of criticism from youth football families and coaches, prompting an April demonstration on the Capitol steps. McCarty pulled it from consideration, but his office says that he plans to propose another version of it this year.
Pop Warner Little Scholars, a national youth football league, favors Cooper’s approach to regulating full-contact practice, said its spokesman, Bruce Heffron.
“We think they could go even further but we think it’s moving at least in the appropriate direction.”
Pop Warner already limits full-contact practice to a maximum of 25 percent of practice time, which amounts to 90 minutes a week. “We feel very comfortable that the 25 percent rule is a good one,” Heffron says. “If California decided that those limits made sense, we’d say, ‘yeah they do, they work for us.’”
A study published this year by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that playing youth football is associated with an earlier onset of mood swings, changes in a person’s behavior and cognitive changes.
Researchers found that people who began playing football before age 12 started experiencing those symptoms 13 years earlier than athletes who started playing football in their teenage years. Their data were based on interviews with survivors of 246 deceased football players.
“Thirteen years is a huge number,” one of the authors, Michael Alosco, said in a news release. “The younger they started to play football, the earlier these symptoms began.”
Cooper’s proposal could face opposition from families who want California to go further in restricting full-contact football practice.
Kimberly Archie, co-founder of Faces of CTE, a California-based advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, says that the proposal is “ridiculous.” Archie lost her 24-year old son Paul Bright Jr. in an automobile accident in 2014.
Bright Jr., who played Pop Warner football from 1997 to 2004, was posthumously found to have CTE. Archie is a lead plaintiff in a class-action federal lawsuit filed against Pop Warner football.
“It doesn’t matter if they limit the hours of practice or train coaches differently or teach them magic tackling, it’s not going to change to outcome for kids,” Archie says.
She says that lawmakers’ time would be better spent imposing stricter regulations on youth football helmets.
Rafter, from the Youth Football Alliance, said that the bill is in a draft form and hopes that additional standards will be added over time, like requiring a paramedic to attend every game and requiring a certain level of coaching certification.
“We’re not done yet.” he says.”What’s in the bill right now is an initial step forward; it is not the final version and it will continue to evolve to include new safety standards.”
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