California lawmakers introduce 'Safe Youth Football Act' by setting minimum age for tackle football

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Just days after the Super Bowl, two California lawmakers announced a bill to prevent minors from playing organized tackle football before high school.

“The Superbowl may be over, but the risk of brain injury to kids who play tackle football remains,” said Assembly members Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), a co-author of the bill. “The Golden State’s children need to know that no touchdown or interception is worth long-term damage to their brains caused by tackle football.” 

McCarty and  co-author Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) unveiled on Thursday the “Safe Youth Football Act,” that would set a minimum age statewide to play organized tackle football. The bill did not specifically state what age, but other states have proposed 12 years old.

Many middle and elementary schools already practice this: For instance, in Oakland, 6th- 7th- and 8th graders in public school play flag football only.

California would be the fourth state to consider a minimum age for youth tackle football. Lawmakers in Illinois introduced a similar bill in January, called the Dave Duerson Act, named after the  Chicago Bears defensive back who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after he killed himself at the age of 50. Duerson shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for signs of the disease that has been linked to concussions or repeated head trauma. New York and Maryland also have similar proposals pending.

The California lawmakers said they were following advice of medical professionals who believe limiting tackle football would help prevent young athletes from sustaining long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking.

“The science is clear: head injuries sustained at a young age can harm kids for the rest of their lives,” Gonzalez Fletcher said in a statement. “Developing skills through flag football before high school is sound public policy from a health and safety standpoint.”

She cited studies have shown that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is caused by repetitive impacts to the head sustained over a period of time. She said children who play contact sports during their most critical years of brain development are at a significantly greater risk for neurological impairments and CTE later in life.

CTE is a degenerative disease known to cause memory loss, violent moods and other cognitive difficulties in football players, members of the military and others who have endured repeated head trauma. It can only be diagnosed after death. Researchers believe the severity of the symptoms is increased for those who began playing football at a younger age.

After years of denials, the NFL has acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in 2015 to a $1 billion settlement with former players.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.