A proposed bill in the California State Legislature would ban kids from playing tackle football until they reach high school. Hours after news of the potential law made the rounds, there was a backlash on Twitter with the hashtag #SaveCaliforniaFootball.
Even crazier, the bill hasn’t even been formally introduced yet. Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego simply announced their intent to offer up the legislation in the coming weeks. Regardless, the reaction has been swift and furious with an online petition opposing the ban garnered over 30,000 signatures in three days.
The California proposal, however, isn’t the first in a state legislature. As the number of concussions and football-related injuries continues to rise, similar initiatives to ban kids from playing tackle football are popping up across the country, most recently in New York state. That said, a ban in California could have a profound impact on the sport’s future, as the state produces the second highest number players in the NFL after Florida. In 2016, 187 players in the National Football League hailed from the Golden State.
Coupled with the recent slump in youth football participation, a ban on tackle football could deal football a big blow. Based on a survey by the California Interscholastic Federation, participation in youth football fell about 3 percent in 2017 and has fallen 10 percent in the last decade. The decrease in participation is largely due to concerns about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease commonly discovered in people with a long history of repetitive brain trauma. Citing the need to protect kids, the two sponsoring lawmakers believe the proposed legislation is similar to mandating vaccinations or requiring children ride in car seats.
On the other hand, many feel like the choice should be left to parents, not the government. Per The Sacramento Bee, Jason Ingman, the youth football coach who launched the online petition against the bill, was dumbfounded that the state would push to “have safe heroin sites,” but not let kids play tackle football. “It’s not a perfect world. We’re never going to take injury out of sports,” said Ingman. “We can’t just abandon it because we can’t be 100 percent safe.” To Ingman’s point, it should be noted that needle shares and other ‘safe injection’ sites like the ones being proposed in California are meant to reduce the number of deaths, injuries, and common among intravenous drug users. Similarly, the ban on tackle football aims to reduce common risks and increase safety across the board.
While the pushback from coaches and parents who feel like the bill is yet another extension of the “nanny” state is strong, the science that supports the legislation is very real as well. McCarty cites a recent study by the Boston University School of Medicine to support the bill. The study notes that children under 12-year-old who participate in tackle football are twice as likely to deal with issues surrounding “behavioral regulation, apathy, and executive functioning.” What’s more, those same kids will be three times as likely to suffer from depression later in life. Depression is uncoincidentally one of the more common signs of CTE. Despite this, some experts agree that further research should be studied before officially implementing legislation in any state.
Others, however, take a more hardened stance. Says Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the most prominent authorities of brain injuries related to repetitive head trauma: “Allowing young kids to play tackle football is the medical definition of child endangerment.”