By Senator Lena C. Taylor
A proposed bill in California is taking an end run at America’s national past time. Assembly Bill 734 could be the most powerful change to the game of football we’ve seen in years. Simply said, the bill would not allow any person under 12 years old to play tackle football in any organized league. The reason: concessions. And before you ask, yes it’s a thing.
Several years ago, UW Medicine’s Sports Health and Safety Institute and Seattle Children’s Research Institute released a study that identified “51 play-related concussions among 863 competitors that were followed for the study (including 133 who participated for two seasons).”
According to their findings, “Two-thirds of concussions occurred during games – almost half from head-to-head contact. Follow-up surveys found a history of prior concussion was associated with a twofold greater risk of concussion, and a history of depression was associated with a fivefold greater risk of concussion.” Further they reported that “Half of the concussed children took longer than 13 days to return to sport and longer than three weeks to return to baseline condition.”
Therefore, as the debate wages on since the bill’s release, it is necessary to caution parents and caregivers who are being told there is not enough data. More than 15 years ago, school districts and states began to create policy and commission studies about tackle football and concussions. Washington State, Oregon, and North Carolina were some of the early players to the table, alongside Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) created a concussion information policy and campaign: When in Doubt, Sit Them Out! In 2011, I joined fellow legislators in co-sponsoring AB 259. The bill, which became a law, created a number of requirements surrounding concussion and head injury education. While we did not put age participation limits in place, as a legislature, many of us understood the issues being raised. Of course, not everyone shared our concerns.
Pushback aside, there continues to be very real questions about the safety of tackle football and concussions, for younger youth. The shame is that because of the money connected to creating feeder programs and organizations, the resistance to meaningful research, policies and or laws are challenged at the highest level of the sport. Other factors are also surfacing as problematic.
Youth football is also becoming a tale of the have and have-nots. As more middle to high income parents become educated about the risks of concussions, they are opting to funnel their children into less risky sports. According to Statista.com, the number of children 6-12, who regularly participate in tackle football, decreased between 2020 and 2021. These numbers were first impacted in 2009, when there was concern for players in the NFL.
Additionally, as with many other medical issues, we are learning that studies on how concussions impact female athletes registers low in priorities. Little will change until we realize that the game is not more important, than the people who play the sport.