SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Calif. Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty (D- Sacramento) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D – San Diego) this past week reaffirmed their commitment to pursuing legislation that will make youth football as safe as possible through the “Safe Youth Football Act,” which will protect children from brain injury by establishing a minimum age of 12 to play in organized tackle football programs.

California State Assembly

A new study released April 30 concludes that “starting to play tackle football before age 12 could lead to earlier onset of cognitive and emotional symptoms” among athletes who were diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. REF:

Researchers at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and Boston University (BU) School of Medicine found that among 211 football players who were diagnosed with CTE after death, those who began tackle football before age 12 developed cognitive, behavioral and mood problems an average of 13 years earlier than those who began tackle football after 12. The study released today also concluded that of the 211 football players who suffered from CTE, symptoms of brain problems began developing roughly 2.5 years earlier for every one year earlier that the athlete began playing tackle football.

“Youth exposure to repetitive head impacts in tackle football may reduce one’s resiliency to brain diseases later in life, including, but not limited to CTE,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at Boston VA Healthcare System and director of BU’s CTE Center. “It makes common sense that children whose brains are rapidly developing, should not be hitting their heads hundreds of times per season.”

“I’ll keep fighting to keep our kids safe,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The science is clear: young kids who play tackle football are especially vulnerable to brain damage that can impact the rest of their lives. We can’t continue to stick our heads in the sand.”

“This is only a time out,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento). “A growing body of science clearly states that young children who suffer from frequent concussive and sub-concussive tackle football related hits are more likely to suffer life-impacting brain injury. I played organized football as a child and I love the sport to this day. But love for football doesn’t mean that we should ignore science. I will continue to reach out to public health experts and the youth football community to pursue legislation that will keep our kids safe and healthy while on and off the field.”

A piece in this weekend’s Orange County Register told the story of Ladera Ranch teen-ager James Ransom, who began playing tackle football at age 9 and who committed suicide at age 13 after suffering mood swings, memory loss and “erratic, obsessive behavior.” His family is convinced that a traumatic brain injury suffered during a football game led to their son’s death. “Football killed my son,” his father told the newspaper.

“The research is clear – when children participate in high-impact, high-contact sports, there is a 100% risk of exposure to brain damage,” said Dr. Bennet Omalu, author of the award-winning book on CTE, Concussion. “Once you know the risk involved in something, what’s the first thing you do? Protect children from it.”

Non-contact youth football has produced a number of NFL legends including Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Tom Brady. A growing number of football legends, from Brett Favre to Drew Brees, have expressed concerns about the long-term health impacts on young children who play tackle football.

Kevin McCarty represents California’s 7th Assembly District, which include the cities of Sacramento, West Sacramento and unincorporated Sacramento County. McCarty serves as Chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.