California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that limits contact in football practices during the season and prohibits it during the offseason.
The Assemblyman Ken Cooley-sponsored bill states, “A high school or middle school football team shall not conduct more than two full-contact practices per week during the preseason and regular season.” The legislation limits such contact to 90 minutes per day and orders, “A high school or middle school football team shall not hold a full-contact practice during the off-season.”
Similar bills have been introduced in Texas and Illinois without making any headway. A New York assemblyman has attempted to ban the sport for children under the age of eleven. School committee members outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in Dover, New Hampshire have sought to ban the game in the public schools.
Football plays safer than ever despite the rhetoric of politicians. Whereas the game averaged more than 25 collision deaths per season in the late 1960s, about four players a season (out of about four million annual participants) have died from hits during the last decade. The number stands as a fraction of the annual fatalities from skiing, skateboarding, or bicycle collisions.
The California legislation claims, “Several academic and scientific studies have asserted that the cumulative effects of sub-concussive blows to the brain due to football may contribute to long-term brain damage and early-onset dementia, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).” But repeatedly, and clearly, scientists have stated in peer-reviewed articles that no cross-sectional or longitudinal study on CTE exists, let alone one that proves causation or prevalence. A 2012 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study actually showed that players (linemen) taking the most subconcussive blows exhibit neurodegenerative disease mortality rates that appear no different than the rates of their non-football-playing peers. The 2012 consensus statement of the 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport states that “chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) represents a distinct tauopathy with an unknown incidence in athletic populations. It was further agreed that a cause and effect relationship has not as yet been demonstrated between CTE and concussions or exposure to contact sports.”
Mayo Clinic researchers hypothesized that high school football players would exhibit higher neurodegenerative disease rates than members of the glee club, band, and choir. Their 2012 study of mid-century Minnesota high school students disproved their incoming bias. The study actually found slightly higher rates of Lou Gehrig’s and Parkinson’s among the musically-inclined students, and rates of neurodegenerative diseases among the high school football players essentially mirroring the rates in the surrounding society.
The bill cites the work of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy as a justification, but the group finding CTE in nearly every deceased football player that it has looked at has invited skepticism from respected researchers, who don’t see that track record among other groups examining athlete brains. “If the brain is sent to Boston,” Loyola University Medical Center professor of neurology Christopher Randolph told Breitbart Sports last year of Jovan Belcher, “CTE will be identified regardless of what shape it is in.”
The California law not only clashes with the existing science, but with the experienced coaches, too. Though many coaches don’t conduct hitting practices more than twice a week or at all in the offseason, some coaches believe that limiting tackling in practice makes it more dangerous in games. “In the summer, we do need to have full-contact. We do need to figure out who can play,” Roosevelt High School head coach Javier Cid told The Los Angeles Times. “That’s a very important part of our summer practice. That’s how we determine who our starters will be.”
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.