February 24, 2024

By Ryan Sabalow | CalMatters

Anaheim Assemblymember Avelino Valencia is a former tight finish for San Jose State who tried out for the NFL. Earlier than coming into politics, he was a group school soccer coach.

“The profit that soccer has had particularly to my life, I can not put a financial quantity on it,” he advised his colleagues on the Meeting Arts, Leisure, Sports activities and Tourism Committee.

So it was painful for Valencia to throw his assist behind a invoice headed for the Meeting ground that may make California the primary state to set a minimal age for sort out soccer — banning the game for kids beneath 12. However he stated the proof that the repeated mind trauma soccer gamers endure recreation after recreation is just too clear.

“It’s as a result of it’s a very harmful and violent sport,” he stated, his broad shoulders filling his go well with jacket like a set of soccer pads. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

The committee’s 5-2 party-line vote from Valencia and his fellow Democrats final week to advance the invoice set in movement what’s prone to be one of many extra emotionally charged points California lawmakers will take into account in 2024 as they wade into one more contentious debate over parental rights.

This time, as an alternative of vaccine necessities or LGBTQ insurance policies at public faculties, they’re debating the way forward for the nation’s hottest sport, one which has a documented historical past of its gamers getting debilitating mind illness from repeated blows to the top. A number of high-profile examples of former gamers – most notably the suicide of legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau who suffered from a degenerative mind illness – have prompted the NFL all the way down to youth leagues to attempt to make tackling safer.

Researchers say sort out soccer continues to be harmful regardless of the modifications to the sport. As an example, Boston College revealed analysis final 12 months discovering that gamers who’ve spent greater than 11 years within the sport have an elevated probability of mind trauma, resulting in poor impulse management and pondering issues.

However there’s no assure Sacramento Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s invoice will advance past the Meeting, even in a Legislature that’s not shy about citing medical analysis to make choices that outrage parental-rights teams and change into “nanny state” fodder for nationwide conservative media.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s workplace stated Wednesdsay that he would veto any invoice with an outright ban on youth sort out soccer. “My Administration will work with the Legislature and the invoice’s creator to strengthen security in youth soccer — whereas guaranteeing dad and mom have the liberty to resolve which sports activities are most acceptable for his or her kids,” he stated in an announcement.

Meeting Invoice 734 would section in a ban, first prohibiting kids beneath 6 from enjoying sort out soccer beginning in 2025, and dealing as much as bar these youthful than 12 by 2029. It should cross on the Meeting ground by the tip of the month if it’s going to ultimately make its approach by way of the state Senate to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Newsom hasn’t indicated whether or not he’d signal the invoice.

A handful of different state legislatures have debated related youth sort out soccer bans. None have handed. The same model of the invoice in 2018 failed in California to even get out of committee.

Alongside the best way, lawmakers are certain to see a repeat of final week’s listening to. Dozens of coaches, youth sports activities affiliation officers, jersey-clad pre-teen soccer gamers and their dad and mom spilled out of the listening to room into the hallway as they lined as much as take the microphone and urge the committee to kill the measure.

The teams, together with the California coalition of Save Youth Soccer, whose personal Fb group has practically 7,000 members, have promised to maintain up the strain.

Already, the difficulty has taken on a partisan tone. A consultant for Mothers for Liberty, an influential group amongst conservatives recognized for looking for to ban textbooks that reference gender id and educational discussions about systemic racism, was amongst those that testified in opposition final week.

“Huddle up California. Shield your parental rights. Stand as much as Large Authorities,” the California Youth Soccer Alliance wrote on its Fb web page earlier this month, urging followers to contact McCarty’s workplace.

Youth sort out soccer followers cite race, group ties

However youth sort out soccer is completely different from different parental-rights debates which might be extra simply framed as a Republican-Democrat dichotomy.

As they weigh the invoice, liberal lawmakers will take into account arguments from the likes of Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper, who opposes it.

Cooper, a Black former Democratic Assemblymember from Elk Grove, worries that banning youth sort out soccer would take away an outlet for younger kids in Black communities who may in any other case discover their approach right into a gang.

“Notably, Black male kids interact in youth sort out soccer at greater charges than some other race,” Cooper advised the committee final week in his sheriff’s uniform. “To my data, there’s been no strain to restrict participation in lacrosse, soccer or ice hockey, which all have concussion charges just like youth sort out soccer however are prevalent in additional prosperous and unique communities.”

Lawmakers, he stated, have already handed laws he authored in 2019 that restricted full-contact youth soccer practices to not more than half-hour per day, two days every week. That invoice had assist from the California Youth Soccer Alliance.

Lawmakers additionally should weigh their very own experiences with the game. Assemblymember Tom Lackey, one of many Republicans on the sports activities and tourism committee, advised his colleagues final week that he’s “participated in flag soccer and … participated in sort out soccer. They’re completely different.”

“If we ban this sport, we take away the chance and plenty of alternatives from kids to develop – not solely as an athlete – however as a self-actualized grownup who is aware of once they have the capabilities to beat an impediment and obtain success additional,” stated Lackey, a former California Freeway Patrol sergeant from Palmdale. “We take away a lifelong ardour for the love of the sport.”

Specialists warn of risks from tackling

McCarty, the invoice’s creator and a former Pop Warner youth soccer participant himself, stated wanting to limit younger youngsters from tackling one another received’t negate their love for soccer, a sport that he stated has been a part of his household for so long as he can bear in mind.

“You possibly can love soccer and love our youngsters and attempt to defend our youngsters on the identical time,” he advised the committee, after pulling out a ball with a 49ers emblem.

The consultants McCarty introduced in to testify in assist of his invoice included pediatric neurologist Dr. Stella Legarda, president of the California Neurology Society, which sponsored the invoice. The group spent $17,983 on lobbying final 12 months on this invoice and others, in accordance with the newest studies filed with the California Secretary of State.

She identified that the NFL has been having its personal gamers shed their pads and helmets to play flag soccer in its signature exhibition recreation, the Professional Bowl.

“When the NFL takes measures to guard its gamers by enjoying flag soccer within the Professional Bowl, it isn’t simply safeguarding its multimillion investments,” Legarda advised the committee. “It delivers the clear message that influence accidents and cumulative head trauma are perilous and must be minimized.”

Assemblymember Valencia, the previous soccer participant, advised CalMatters in an interview that the invoice and the considerations in regards to the well being of California’s youth soccer gamers have been very a lot on his thoughts final 12 months, as he stood on the sidelines of his alma mater, San Jose State, throughout its recreation with its rival, Cal State Fresno.

He stated he was struck by “how violent and damaging” the game he performed is. He couldn’t think about taking these types of hits on the speeds the gamers have been transferring, now, as a 35-year-old man.

Valencia stated that younger youngsters can play flag soccer and nonetheless study the abilities they’ll must play sort out soccer once they’re older – with out risking mind injury.

“Drills, turning into extra athletic, agility, pace, that makes you a greater soccer participant,” he stated. “However tackling? That comes second hand. You possibly can determine that out in a really brief time frame.”