Elk Grove Citizen
March 14, 2023
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) has introduced legislation requiring a child to be at least 12 years old to play tackle football. In a recent news release the assemblyman claimed his bill, AB 734, would protect young athletes from being subjected to brain injury and trauma associated with playing tackle football.
“Growing research is clear about the links between youth tackle football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” he wrote in a Feb. 17 release. “Additionally, A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reports youth tackle football athletes ages 6-14 sustain 15 times more head impacts than flag football during a practice or game, and that head impacts increase the risk for concussion and other serious head injuries. It also reports that youth tackle football athletes experience about 378 head impacts per athlete during the season while flag football athletes experience about eight.”
Thus, McCarty is recommending all youth football organizations switch to flag football for those under 12.
“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 claimed. “The 2023 NFL Pro Bowl was a flag football game for the safety of the players. Why can’t we have that for our youth? 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.”
Most local football organizations start as young as six years old with the “Mighty Mite” level of play. Just about all Elk Grove-area high school football program has a youth program attached to it in one way or another.
Ron White with the California Youth Football Alliance is asking legislators to vote down this bill.
“This is one of the most misguided, out of touch pieces of legislation that we’ve seen,” White told Vicki Gonzalez of Capital Public Radio on March 13. “This is what appears to be a crusade by a single man to try to put an end to an amazing sport for young athletes…if you follow the science (McCarty’s claims) just don’t add up. At its best it’s anecdotal and it becomes (McCarty’s) crusade.”
White said he consulted with former Assemblymember Jim Cooper in 2020 in writing Assembly Bill 1 which requires youth tackle football organizations to abide by a set of rules which define how much contact can be allowed in practices. The bill which became law in 2021, requires youth coaches to receive a tackling and blocking certification which includes specified concussion and head injury education.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has in recent years been re-writing its bylaws to adapt more safety precautions in high school football. It starts with a rule that no one under age 15 can play at the varsity level unless a special waiver for a 14-year-old to participate is signed. Then CIF rules dictate that no games can be played until the team has had 14 days of practice. Football teams are limited to two days per week of full contact practice with no more than 45 minutes of full contact on each of those days. In 2015, rules prohibiting contact drills in off-season activities and team camps were instituted. Helmets and shoulder pads are prohibited in out-of-season practices.
McCarty is getting some reinforcements to come alongside him in pushing this bill through the California Assembly.
“As a neuroscientist and former football player at Harvard, I fully endorse AB 734,” Co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation Chris Nowinski said. “Now that the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recognize that head impacts in tackle football can cause the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), it’s time to protect our young children from a harm they cannot understand. To protect them, we don’t let children smoke, drink, or use indoor tanning beds. Why would we let eight-year-olds participate in an activity that we now know can give them a brain disease?”
Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, who played defensive tackle for Tampa Bay much of his career is also on board.
“I support AB 734,” Sapp said. ” Thank you, California for taking this big step in saving our future: the kids. Let’s delay the banging of heads. You’ve got plenty of time after you get to high school.”
“Sapp isn’t the only NFL legend who has spoken out about the effects of youth tackle football,” McCarty added. “John Madden, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Drew Brees, Harry Carson, Tim Brown, and Bret Favre have all said young kids shouldn’t be playing tackle football. They were on the front lines and have experienced those high-impact hits; we should be listening to them.”
“This isn’t your father’s football,” White responded in his interview on Cap Radio. “Most of these guys haven’t been around the sport in many years and are unaware of changes that have happened in recent years to make football more safe.”
White also told Gonzalez if this bill does pass the State Legislature, there would be a drop off in participation in high school football.
“We have an assembly member who wants to take an activity away from kids who many come from an under-served community and need a way out, need an activity in their life that is positive, need mentorship,” he said.