National News

Is This the End of Youth Football?

Posted April 3, 2018 12:08 p.m. EDT

Kimberly Archie’s son stopped playing football by age 15. But by then he had already absorbed many hits to the head during eight years of Pop Warner football and one year playing as a high school freshman.

By 2014, Archie’s son, Paul Bright Jr., was 24, and had done something out of character, his mother said: He bought a motorcycle off Craigslist, despite having no riding experience. He fixed it up, and rode it fast without a license or insurance. On Labor Day that year he T-boned another vehicle and died.

An examination of her son’s brain revealed previous damage to its frontal lobe and he was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.

Now, California state lawmakers are being asked to bar children under 12 from playing organized tackle football — a requirement supporters say will protect their brains from unnecessary injury and trauma. Archie, who had been working to make sports safer long before her son’s death, supports the bill, but thinks the age limit should be pushed even higher.

“If I’m wrong there is going to be less brain-injury exposure,” she said. “If they’re wrong, kids can die.”

A fact sheet in support of the bill — known as the Safe Youth Football Act — says children who wait until they are 12 to play tackle football decrease their risk of “life-impacting brain damage” by 50 percent. Doctors have also noted that head hits are more damaging to young players because their brains are not fully developed, and are less capable of fully repairing themselves. Similar legislation has been proposed in Illinois, Maryland and New York, officials said.

But passing anti-football laws, even at the state level, can be an uphill battle. Despite a decline in youth football participation over the past decade, the sport remains very popular. A Facebook group titled Save Youth Football — California already has more than 4,000 members. On the page, critics of the proposed law call it government overreach, share stories about the value of football and question the research into its harm.

“I’m opposed to anything that’s going to tell me how to raise my kids that’s not a black-and-white situation,” Nick Hardwick, a former center for the San Diego Chargers who now is the team’s radio analyst, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “And youth football is a gray area.”

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, unveiled the bill in February. The bill is currently in committee and is expected to be heard no later than the first week of May, officials said.

“Over my son’s dead body,” Archie said, “will it not pass.”