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California bill would limit football practices to reduce concussions

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - California lawmakers on Thursday moved to restrict the number of football practices in which students are allowed to tackle each other, due to concerns that permanent brain damage could result from concussions among high school athletes.

The measure, which would require approval from a medical professional before students who suffer head injuries may return to the field, is the latest action by U.S. lawmakers to try to minimize brain damage to professionals and students during sporting events.

“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," the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley, said in a statement. "Medical research has shown hits don’t have to produce a concussion to have long-lasting effects.”

If signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, the measure, passed by the state senate on Thursday, would make California the 20th U.S. state to restrict practices by middle school and high school football teams during which tackling and other full-contact activities are allowed.

Several studies have noted an increase in high school concussions in recent years, although it is not clear whether the rise is due to more injuries or improved diagnosis. Numerous professional players have developed severe symptoms believed to have been caused by repeated head trauma.

Under Cooley's bill, any player who is suspected of having a head injury must be removed from athletic activity for the rest of the day. He or she cannot return to play unless the activity is approved by a licensed health care provider.

The bill also forbids high school or middle school football teams from conducting more than two practices per week during the season and pre-season during which tackling and other full-contact activities are allowed.

Such practices are banned altogether during the off-season, and may last no more than 90 minutes during the season.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein)

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