California bill would ban tackle football before high school

SAN DIEGO (KSWB) – San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher announced a bill that would prohibit minors from playing organized tackle football before high school.

Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) introduced the “Safe Youth Football Act,” which they say follows the advice of medical professionals and will prevent young athletes from sustaining long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking.

The lawmakers cited studies that have shown Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by repetitive impacts to the head sustained over a period of time. They 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.

“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.”

In a statement, the lawmakers noted that non-contact youth football has produced several NFL legends including Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Tom Brady.

“The Super Bowl may be over, but the risk of brain injury to kids who play tackle football remains,” McCarty said. “We have an obligation to protect children from dangerous, long-term injuries resulting from tackle football, especially brain trauma. 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.”

Jo Cornell, a Rancho Bernardo mother who lost her son, calls the bill a step in the right direction.

“It feels like we have momentum on our side,” Cornell said.

Cornell said her son Tyler played football from ages 8 to 17 and took countless hits to the head. She said at the end of high school, Tyler began battling depression and when he was 25 he took his own life. Cornell told FOX 5 she sent his brain to be tested and the results showed he had CTE.

Cornell said passing this bill would be a tribute to her son and others who have lost their lives due to CTE.

The bill will be considered this spring.

Similar bills have been proposed in Illinois, Maryland and New York.