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California approves bill to minimize concussion risk for youth footballers

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-Photo by Terry Miller

By Jennifer Schlueter

With more and more football players suing the National Football League because of severe head injuries and the increasing awareness of the public about the tragic aftermath of such concussions, the NFL and college leagues reacted by limiting full-contact practices, which has already proven to reduce concussions.
Last Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed the AB2127 law, which will prohibit full-contact practices taking longer than 90 minutes a day in middle and high schools. Full-contact practices will be limited to twice a week, and completely banned during off-season. Furthermore, if a head injury is suspected, players cannot return to the game at all or before gaining approval from a medical professional. These regulations aim to prevent and reduce severe concussions in young football players.
The rules, supported by the California Interscholastic Federation and sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), will be enforced starting January 1, 2015. California will then be one out of 20 states to prohibit off-seasonal full-contact practices. The CIF additionally voted on limiting weekly practice hours to 18 per week.
According to the LA Times, Cooley said: “AB 2127′s practice guidelines will reassure parents that their kids can learn football safely through three hours of full-contact practice…to maximize conditioning and skill development while minimizing concussion risk.”
A study by Dawn Levine, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant director of the Youth Sports Concussion Program for Kaiser Permanente, demonstrates that one-third of the average 600 hits to a high school player’s head occur during practice. Former New Orleans Saints executive Terry O’Neil estimates that per season, high schoolers endure 100,000 concussions–60-75 percent of them during practice, The Sports Legacy Institute claims. Levine agrees with the bill, because less full-contact practices will reduce the number of injuries, and thus, the “risk of any long-term damage,” the LA Times reports.
According to the same LA Times article, Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) voted against the bill. In Knight’s opinion, the law makes California high schoolers less competitive for college scholarships, whereas Anderson believes that legislature should not interfere with sports practices.
LA Roosevelt High School football coach Javier Cid said in an interview with the Times that full-contact practices are necessary to determine starters.
“Concussion can change a kid’s life,” Cooley told Reuters. “Viewed through that lens, this bill is not crazy. It’s good for kids and it’s good for parents.” For the assemblyman, the players’ health and the concerns of their families are more important than a possible impact on football practices: “I anticipate other states will follow our lead as they consider the interests of kids and families,” he said in a press release. “We have a multitude of evidence that this does not just affect professional athletes, but that younger kids who are still developing are just as susceptible and the effects of impacts. Research has shown hits don’t have to produce a concussion to have long-lasting effects.”
In 2006, Zackary Lystedt, a middle school football player, had suffered severe head injury from a game. After a three month coma, and despite several therapies, Lystedt “still walks with a cane and has limited speaking abilities,” said the Washington post. Together with his parents, he fights for stronger regulations of football practices and awareness of concussions and their consequences.
According to the LA Times, Loyola High School in Los Angeles has already taken an exceptional step to detect concussions. Principal Frank Kozakowski demands every single one of his students at the all-boy Catholic school to participate in a baseline test to assess “the student’s balance and brain functions [with the help of memory and problem solving skills] so it can be used and compared with a similar exam if the student is suspected of having a concussion.”
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