CBS News Sacramento
January 17, 2024
SACRAMENTO — Governor Newsom said he won’t sign a bill banning tackle for football kids under 12.
Heightened concern over concussions and the growing popularity of flag football are driving the effort to impose the ban, which opponents say would take away the ability for parents to decide their children’s activities, put California youth players behind those in other states and cut off some children from a source of exercise and an important after-school activity.
Gov. Newsom, who opposes the bill, issued a statement Wednesday that read:
“I will not sign legislation that bans youth tackle football. I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of our young athletes, but an outright ban is not the answer. My Administration will work with the Legislature and the bill’s author to strengthen safety in youth football — while ensuring parents have the freedom to decide which sports are most appropriate for their children.
“As part of that process, we will consult with health and sports medicine experts, coaches, parents, and community members to ensure California maintains the highest standards in the country for youth football safety. We owe that to the legions of families in California who have embraced youth sports.
“California remains committed to building on the California Youth Football Act, which I signed in 2019, establishing advanced safety standards for youth football. This law provides a comprehensive safety framework for young athletes, including equipment standards and restrictions on exposure to full-contact tackles.”
Advocates say the bill will protect kids from the risk of brain damage, which studies have shown increases the longer a person plays tackle football.
A Boston University study published in August examining 152 athletes who were under 30 when they died showed 41% (63) had signs of CTE. The study shows that 87 of the 152 died by suicide, including 33 who also had CTE.
That data led McCarty to author AB-734, which would outlaw tackle football for those under 12 statewide.
“It’s not even about concussions. It’s about repetitive hits to the brain,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. “If kids want to play tackle, wait until they get to puberty when their bodies are more developed.”
McCarty introduced a similar bill in 2018 that also failed to pass. No state has banned tackle football for kids despite some attempts. Other proposals in New York and Illinois also failed to pass.
Bill supporters note that kids can still enjoy the sport through flag football, which is becoming more popular and even has support from the NFL. But Ashley Bertram, a mother of three boys, ages 14, 12 and 7, said her boys have played both sports and that in her experience children get hurt more while playing flag football because the players don’t wear protective gear.
“Flag football is still a contact sport,” Bertram said. “If you think that just because a 7-year-old boy is running up to take a flag, that they’re not ramming into each other to do that, you’re out of your mind! We’re talking about boys!”
Bertram, who attended the hearing with her 7-year-old son, Bruce, said the bill is more about infringing on parental rights than football.
“In the state of California, I get to choose whether my child lives or dies in my womb. But I can’t decide what sport he plays?” she asked.
Youth football coaches are asking for more time after Assembly Bill 1’s passage in 2019 regulated contact football.
Coaches worry that players won’t know the right fundamentals and leave themselves prone to injury when the game actually starts. McCarty says that while flag football may be different, the risks may not be worth the reward.
The bill will be heard in the California Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Tourism Committee of the state Legislature Wednesday morning.
The debate comes as participation in high school tackle football has been declining in California. Participation dropped more than 18% from 2015 to 2022, falling from a high of 103,725 players to 84,626 players, according to the California Interscholastic Federation’s participation survey. Participation then increased by 5% in 2023, up to 89,178 players.