Now and in the coming weeks, some 3 million children between the ages of 6 to 14, according to USA Football, will be strapping on helmets and shoulder pads to play organized youth tackle football. Another 1.1 million boys — and some girls — at more than 15,000 high schools will be starting their football seasons as well. While the fields on which they will be running will look the same, there’s a distinct change occurring in the environment in which they will be playing. And that’s a good thing.
Players, coaches and parents — even the National Football League — are finally beginning to get serious about the problems of head injuries and, specifically, concussions in football.
Many schools, coaches and leagues across the nation have already adopted new guidelines on how often teams may participate in full-contact drills and how long practices may be held. At the same time, state legislatures have passed bills cementing such changes into law, ensuring they’re followed by all teams.
California is no different. This summer, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2127, authored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, limiting full-contact practices to being no more than 90 minutes in length. They also can be held no more than twice a week during the regular season. Meanwhile, full-contact workouts in California will be banned during the off-season. The law takes effect Jan. 1.
The law also will require coaches and players to be more responsive once a concussion occurs. Next year, players suffering such injuries will be required to sit out at least seven days. Current rules allow players to return to the playing field within 24 hours. But that’s where more education and focus is needed, in identifying when concussions occur and how best to evaluate their seriousness.
To help in that area, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, will be hosting a community meeting and panel discussion at 5 p.m. Monday at Santa Rosa Junior College on concussion identification and prevention. The forum will feature a panel of experts including Dr. Ty Affleck, founder of Santa Rosa Sports and Family Medicine and team physician for Sonoma State University, Dr. Robert Nied, a sports medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente, and former 49er Ben Lynch, a member of the advisory board of the California Concussion Coalition.
It’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously and an area that needs continued research. A new study, in fact, shows high school athletes take longer to recover from concussions than college and professional athletes, primarily because the brains of younger athletes are still developing.
All the more reason for more caution. Football programs are clearly headed in the right direction this season, but it’s still far from certain they’re where they need to be to ensure player safety.