Critics of a new state law limiting the amount of time youth teams practice in full contact are, once again, accusing California of being a nanny state. But polls show parents — and in many cases coaches — are ahead of the nanny on this one.
A recent poll found that because of rising concerns about head injuries, 40 percent of American parents would rather have their children play a sport other than football.
And it’s showing in a drop in the number of kids playing the sport.
Participation in Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football program, dropped nearly 10 percent from 2010 to 2012. Meanwhile, USA Football, a national governing body partially funded by the National Football League, reported that overall participation among players ages 6 to 14 fell by 200,000 to 2.8 million in 2011.
In recognition of this growing concern, coaches also have been scaling back in full-contact drills and scrimmages, which is why, for many, the law, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday, will have little to no impact.
AB 2127, authored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, limits full-contact practices to being no more than 90 minutes long, and they can be held no more than twice a week during the regular season. Full-contact workouts will be banned during the off-season. The law takes effect Jan. 1.
Athletes, coaches and parents also will need to respond more aggressively once a concussion occurs. Under current rules, a player may return to action within a day after a concussion occurs. Next year, players will be required to sit out at least seven days.
That’s an important step because studies show multiple concussions can lead to lifelong cognitive impairment. In addition, recent research suggests that repeated small hits can be harmful as well.
Many local coaches say they already follow similar rules, which mirror guidelines already in place in the National Football League, where teams are only allowed full-contact practices — workouts where players are moving and tackling at game speed — 14 times a year.
But coaches and parents need to set a higher standard than the NFL, which has been slow to respond to the problem and has done so primarily because of lawsuits filed by debilitated former players.
Studies show that children are more susceptible than adults to getting concussions and require longer recovery times.
Coaches and parents shouldn’t wait for the state to establish rules in other areas, such as coaching players at a young age how to tackle correctly — not leading with their heads or necks — and putting a limit on the number of games in a season.
As Cardinal Newman Head Coach Paul Cronin noted in a Press Democrat story, local teams can play as many as 16 games in a season. That’s as many as the San Francisco 49ers will play this year before the post-season.
Football is an exhilarating sport to watch and play. But nobody should look back on their playing days as a child with regret that adults didn’t do enough to protect them from long-term injury.
This new state law is a step toward ensuring that doesn’t happen.