Organized tackle football would be banned at levels lower than high school under a bill announced Friday by San Diego Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who says the rule would follow medical research in an effort to protect kids from the lasting effects of traumatic brain injury.
The bill would allow only high-contact elements of the sport in high school-level leagues to protect young athletes from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease found in people who have had multiple head injuries. The disorder has been especially common among football players. The onset of the disease occurs years after the injuries and symptoms can include depression, memory loss and dementia. It is diagnosable only after death.
"The research is clear — when children participate in high-impact, high-contact sports, there is a 100 percent risk of exposure to brain damage," said Dr. Bennet Omalu, author of the book "Concussion" about CTE. "Once you know the risk involved in something, what's the first thing you do? Protect children from it."
Since 2014, the state has put in place stricter protocols that aim to protect young athletes from head injury. Among the requirements of a law passed last year is that athletes, coaches and parents receive educational information about the signs and symptoms of concussion and protocols in dealing with such injuries, which include being evaluated by a doctor.
But Gonzalez Fletcher said such rules don't go far enough.
"Head injuries sustained at a young age can harm kids for the rest of their lives," she said. "Developing skills through flag football before high school is sound public policy from a health and safety standpoint."
She cited several NFL greats who got their start in noncontact leagues: Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Tom Brady.
The bill will be considered by the Assembly this spring. No states have passed such a law, though similar rules are being considered in Illinois, Maryland and New York, according to Gonzalez Fletcher.
The bill is co-sponsored by Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.