Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, have introduced legislation that would ban organized tackle football in California until high school. This will certainly draw ferocious pushback from football fans, those who think government shouldn’t micromanage family decisions and the vast majority of adults who enjoyed playing the sport growing up and didn’t end up with brain damage. But in a nation in which more than 2 million kids play in youth football leagues, the lawmakers have identified a genuine public health issue that demands attention.
The case of Tyler Cornell illustrates why. His mother, Jo Cornell of Rancho Bernardo, is one of two California mothers suing the Pop Warner youth football organization. Her son loved football, but Cornell believes that the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in his brain after he became depressed and committed suicide at age 25 contributed to his death. He played football from when he was 8 to 17 but was never diagnosed with a concussion, a sign that the cumulative effects of the brain being jarred by relatively minor hits can wreak the same long-term harm as tackles involving savage blows to the head. Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the neurologist for the University of Michigan’s sports programs, suggests brain damage may be a significant but little-appreciated factor limiting cognitive development among children. And evidence isn’t just anecdotal. A Wake Forest School of Medicine study of the brains of 8- to 13-year-old boys who played football — none of whom suffered concussions — found changes associated with brain injuries.
This is not to say ban football now and forever. It’s to say that for all the newfound awareness about concussions — leading to protocols being established from leagues for 5-year-olds to the NFL — coaches, parents and players still need to understand the risks better. Even if Gonzalez Fletcher’s and McCarty’s bill never advances out of committee, if it promotes a better understanding of youth brain injuries, than it will have had a positive effect.
— The San Diego Union-Tribune,