California tackles full-contact football in schools

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to add safeguards to youth football programs statewide to protect against concussions. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill to add safeguards to youth football programs statewide to protect against concussions. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California lawmakers have a new plan to make football safer for young players: Put a time limit on tackling.

Under a law signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), youth football teams are allowed just three hours of full-contact play per week during the season. In the off-season, full-contact play is not allowed at all.

The law will also delay an injured player’s return to the field. Players who are suspected of head injuries cannot play for the rest of that day and must obtain approval from a medical professional before going back into a game.

Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley, who drafted the legislation, said it will reduce the risk of lasting brain damage among middle-school and high-school players.

“Concussion can change a kid’s life,” Cooley, a Sacramento-area lawmaker, told Reuters. “Viewed through that lens, this bill is not crazy. It’s good for kids and it’s good for parents.”

States, including Alabama, Maryland and Texas, have all added restrictions on full-contact play in the past year. Earlier this year, a conference of top health and college sports officials also discussed a national mandate to limit the amount of full-contact practices.

Laws regulating youth football began sweeping the country in 2006, when a 13-year-old player suffered multiple blows to the head and fell into a coma for three months. Today, Zackery Lystedt still walks with a cane and has limited speaking abilities – but continues to push for stronger regulation.

Every state in the country now has safeguards against youth concussions: Mississippi became the final state to pass a youth concussion law this January.

A few months later, Indiana became the first state to require concussion education for coaches. The program is funded by a $45 million national grant awarded to the Indianapolis-based youth organization, USA Football.

About 140,000 high school athletes suffered from concussions in 2012, according to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

The National Football League – which spent about $1.1 million on lobbying last year – has also pushed for concussion safety bills on the federal level. A pair of bills requiring concussion prevention training was also floated in Congress last year, though neither made it to a full vote.

NFL has paid big in lawsuits related to concussions, including last fall’s $765 million settlement to compensate 18,000 former players.

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