Adam Beam, The Associated Press
3 minutes ago
FILE – Pop Warner football players look on before an NFL preseason football game between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers on Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 in San Diego. The California Legislature is considering a bill that would ban children under 12 from playing soccer. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California bill aimed at reducing the risk of brain injuries by banning football for children under 12 cleared its first hurdle Wednesday after a legislative panel voted in favor of the measure to be considered by the state Assembly. .
The bill has support from advocates seeking to protect children from brain damage, but is opposed by trainers who warn it would deprive young people of an important source of physical activity.
A legislative panel voted 5-2 during a public hearing to advance the bill authored by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty. But this measure is still far from being passed. The state Assembly must approve it by the end of next January to have a chance to become law this year.
“Football and regulated sports in general are clearly proven ways to keep kids out of trouble,” said Assemblyman Mike Gibson, chairman of the state Assembly committee responsible for regulating sports in the state. “This bill does not take away that ability, it simply says we will move from soccer to football and still be able to have the same learning experiences.”
If passed, the bill would not take effect until 2026. The proposed amendments would be implemented gradually through 2029. The bill comes as flag football is gaining popularity nationwide, especially among girls.
Research has shown that playing soccer causes brain damage, and the risk increases the longer people play soccer, said Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and a former Harvard University football player and WWE professional wrestler. It can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, causing the death of nerve cells in the brain.
“I have no problem with NFL players, who are adults and understand the risks and are compensated, risking CTE,” Nowinski said. “I can't imagine a world in which kids don't understand the risks, they do it for fun (and) they take the same risk with their minds.”
No country has banned football for children, but there have been attempts to do so. Similar bills previously introduced in California, New York, and Illinois failed to pass.
California state law already bans full-contact practices for high school and youth football teams during the offseason and limits them to two practices per week during the preseason and regular season. The law, which took effect in 2021, also requires youth football officials to complete education about concussions and head injuries as well as other safeguards.
Youth soccer leagues need more time to implement the 2021 law to see how effective it is, said Steve Famiano, a former youth soccer coach who leads the Save Youth Football California coalition. He said children under the age of 12 should not be forced to only play football, which he said was a completely different sport from football.
“Football is geared toward smaller, faster kids, and some of the kids we see in soccer may not have developed physically yet, they may be a little overweight or bigger in stature, and maybe they're not the fastest kid on the team,” he said. “They fit in perfectly on a youth soccer team. They have to play offensive line and defensive line. If you take that away from these kids, where do they go?”
Tackling football has declined at the high school level in California. Participation declined more than 18% from 2015 to 2022, falling from 103,725 players to 84,626 players, according to a participation survey conducted by the California Interscholastic Federation. Football participation increased by 5% in 2023 to 89,178 players.
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