California Takes Key Step To Ban Tackle Football For Kids Under 12: What To Know


January 10, 2024

California is one step closer to becoming the first state to ban tackle football for young children after a state committee passed a bill Wednesday prohibiting it, though it’s been met with opposition from lawmakers and experts who believe the bill may have negative consequences on inner city and rural youth.

• A California state committee passed a bill in a vote of 5-2 on Wednesday aimed at banning tackle football in youth sports organizations for kids under the age of 12; the vote was crucial because the bill has to pass the state Assembly by the end of January in order to have a chance of becoming a law in 2024.
• Assembly Bill 734, authored by Democratic Assemblymaker Kevin McCarty, now moves to the state Assembly floor, though it won’t go into effect until 2026 if passed.
• A separate California law that went into effect in 2021 requires all youth football coaches to undergo training on head injuries, concussions, heat-related illnesses, first aid, CPR and other safety measures.
• The bill is supported by research that’s shown tackle football has negative impacts on the youth: kids between the ages of six and 14 who play tackle football sustain 15 times more head impacts and 23 times more hard head impacts than those who play flag football, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Playing tackle football for more than 11 years can lead to less white matter in the brain—the system that facilitates communication between different parts of the brain—which may lead to impulsive behavior and other thinking-related problems, a 2023 study from Boston University found.
• Flag football players aren’t allowed to make contact with each other, and instead wear flags their opponents are supposed to remove instead of tackling, while tackle football allows players to touch and tackle each other.

“Flag football is an alternative that is safer for youth and can still give them the opportunity to learn the skills to be successful at tackle football later in life,” McCarty said in a statement. “AB 734 will help protect kids and nurture their brain development, and not put them in a situation that’s proven to cause irreparable harm.”

Jay Erhart, the league commissioner for Sacramento Youth Football, told local news station KRCA 3 the bill will just “disenfranchise” vulnerable youth in the inner city and rural areas. Erhart also said out of the over 9,000 players between six and 14 who played tackle football in the league last year, only 20 had to sit out due to concussions. Republican Assemblymaker Tom Lackey criticized the bill in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying “we need to allow our youth and their parents/guardians to decide for themselves the risks versus benefits of playing the sport.” Republican Assemblymaker Juan Alanis echoed Erhart’s sentiments in a post on X, saying the ban will have “wide-ranging” consequences on the youth, “especially throughout our most financially insecure and underserved communities.”

677,872. That’s how many kids between the ages of six and 12 participated in tackle football in the U.S. in 2021, according to a report by nonprofit Aspen Institute. That is an almost 18% decline from the previous year. Just over 1 million played flag football that same year.

Similar efforts have repeatedly failed in other states. New York’s Senate Bill S4666 sought to ban tackle football in kids 12 years and younger. However, the bill, brought by Democratic state Senator Luis Sepúlveda in 2023, never made it past committee. A similar bill was introduced in Illinois in 2018 prohibiting kids 12 years and younger from playing tackle football, though it never passed. Lawmakers in Massachusetts introduced a now defunct bill in 2019 banning kids in the seventh grade or below from playing tackle football, and would fine a school or league $10,000 if a player got hurt playing the sport. New Jersey lawmakers also failed at passing a 2018 bill only allowing kids 12 and older to play tackle football. A Maryland House committee rejected a bill in 2018 prohibiting tackle football before high school. Canada was able to pass tighter restrictions on the sport: Canadian children 12 and younger were no longer allowed to play tackle football starting in 2022 after the sanctioning body for youth football in the country made the decision in 2019.

Girls’ high school flag football became a sport in California for the first time during the 2023-24 school year. This came after the California Interscholastic Federation—the governing body for high school sports in the state—voted unanimously in February 2023 to allow the sport’s addition. Other states with high school girls’ flag football teams include Nevada, Alabama and New York. In the decade leading up to the 2018-19 school year, participation in girls’ high school flag football doubled to 11,000, according to the National Federation of State High School Football Associations.

Flag football will make its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

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