With youth football registration set to open, battle to tackle continues

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Registration for the Redwood City 49ers Football and Cheer program opens March 29.

Meanwhile, the program has more on its mind at the moment than ensuring local youth are aware about the new season.

This week, the program called for the public to sign a petition opposing proposed state legislation that would ban youth athletes from participating in organized tackle football until the 9th grade.

The legislation sponsored by California Assembly members Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) — called the “Safe Youth Football Act” — aims to protect children from brain injury by establishing a minimum age to play organized tackle football.

“This bill will follow the advice of medical professionals and allow high-contact elements from football programs only at the high school level,” according to a statement introducing the legislation last month. “This standard will prevent young athletes from sustaining long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking.”

In a statement, McCarty said “numerous studies have shown that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by repetitive impacts to the head sustained over a period of time and cite sub-concussive impacts as an important factor leading to brain significantly greater risk for neurological impairments and CTE later in life.”

McCarty’s statement adds that children who wait to play tackle football until high school have a better chance of “avoiding the net effects that come with CTE, including depression, memory loss and dementia,” and recommends non-contact flag football as an alternative.

The legislation is not just opposed by the Redwood City 49ers, but also by Peninsula Pop Warner, which released a statement last month calling the ‘well-intentioned” legislation “misguided.” They argue that the medical research is inconclusive, and that, that youth would be prevented from years of training and instruction in proper tackling and blocking techniques, and that youth athletes’ smaller frames than their high school counterparts results in far less hazardous collisions and impact forces.

“Peninsula Pop Warner is committed to playing the sport of youth tackle football because: (1) our parents deserve the freedom of choice regarding which sports are best for their children; (2) the sport has never been safer; (3) the medical research is inconclusive.”

Michael Wagner, commissioner of Southern California Conference Pop Warner, said most researchers have been studying a bygone era of football, a game that has “dramatically changed.”

Opponents of the legislation say no research has definitively linked long-term brain damage or CTE to participation in youth tackle football.

“The truth is that you can find research that will support just about any opinion that you want to take with respect to concussions, head safety, and CTE,” according to the Pop Warner statement.

The arguments mirror those uttered by USA Football.

“USA Football believes parents — not government officials — are best suited to discern which sports their children play,” said Scott Hallenback, CEO of USA Football.

The proposed legislation would add to AB 2127, which was signed into law in 2014 and restricts high school football programs to no more then 90 minutes of full-contact practice per day, and limits the number of full-contact practices during the season to two per week.