NATIONAL NEWS

California proposal to ban youth tackle football clears first legislative hurdle

Jan 10, 2024, 6:41 PM

FILE - Pop Warner football players look on before an NFL pre-season football game between the San F...

FILE - Pop Warner football players look on before an NFL pre-season football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 in San Diego. The California Legislature is considering a bill that would ban tackle football for children under 12. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers who want to ban tackle football for kids under 12 to reduce brain injuries gained ground Wednesday in the Legislature but still face a very long field and a clock that is ticking.

Though it was a school day, dozens of children wearing football jerseys and their parents crowded into the hearing room and watched as the Assembly committee that regulates sports voted 5-2 to send the bill to the full chamber.

The full Assembly has only until the end of January to approve it. If they do, it goes to the Senate and then Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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.

But 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. And they note children can still enjoy the sport through flag football, which is becoming more popular and even has support from the NFL.

No state has banned tackle football for kids despite some attempts. State Assemblymember Kevin McCarty introduced a similar bill in 2018 that failed to pass. Other proposals in New York and Illinois also failed to pass.

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.

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.

A safer option than tackle football

But several lawmakers who back the legislation say flag football is a safer option for kids.

“Football and organizational sports in general are clearly proven ways to keep kids out of trouble,” said Assemblymember Mike Gipson, chair of the state assembly’s committee in charge of regulating sports in California. “This bill is not taking away that ability, it is simply saying that we’re going to move from tackle football to flag football and we can still have the same learning experiences.”

McCarty told the committee that, if approved, the measure would set rules to protect the brains of the youngest children and join measures that already regulate other contact sports in the state.

“Just like we have (rules) for soccer that you can’t head before a certain age in California, and in hockey that you can’t check before a certain age, (the bill) says to our youngest kids, ‘You can play flag football under 12 and over 12 you start having contact.'”

The tackle football ban would be a slow one

If passed, the ban would be gradually phased in, prohibiting children under 6 starting in 2025, under 10 in 2027 and those under 12 in 2029. That provision wasn’t part of last year’s bill and was added Wednesday, perhaps making the bill more palatable to some lawmakers.

Flag football has been gaining popularity nationwide, especially for girls. The sport has provided scholarship opportunities for female players, with around two dozen NAIA schools fielding women’s teams in 2023 and more schools planning to join in upcoming seasons.

The NFL has promoted flag football, helping it to become an Olympic sport that will be included in the LA Games in 2028. The league has set up camps, clinics, a circuit and even exhibitions through its NFL FLAG program, which serves kids between the ages of 4 and 17.

Researching the numbers

According to research by USA Football, more than 1 million kids between the ages of 6 and 12 played the sport in 2022.

Research has shown tackle football causes brain damage, and the risk increases the longer people play football, said Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and former Harvard football player and WWE professional wrestler. It can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which kills nerve cells in the brain.

“I don’t have a problem with NFL players, who are adults and understand the risk and are compensated, risking CTE,” Nowinski said. “I can’t imagine a world in which we have children, who don’t understand the risk, doing this for fun (and) taking the same risk with their brain.”

California law already bans full-contact practices for high school and youth football teams during the offseason and limits them to two practices per week during the preseason and regular season. A law that took effect in 2021 also requires youth football officials to complete concussion and head injury education in addition to other safeguards.

Ron White, president of the California Youth Football Alliance, said the measure is misguided and discriminatory because if passed, it will greatly impact underserved communities. White also said the science on CTE is constantly evolving.

“There is not medical consensus in this area, far from it,” White said. “So, when you’re informing public policy, we believe that the (legislative) body should really take that into consideration and know there’s competing science and work with the people, not against them.”

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

The defendants are accused of stealing software used to train Apache helicopter pilots....

Haley Britzky and Sharif Paget, CNN

2 National Guardsmen killed after military helicopter crash in Mississippi

Two National Guard members died after a helicopter crashed Friday afternoon during a training flight in northeast Mississippi.

2 hours ago

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored ...

Associated Press

Facing backlash over IVF ruling, Alabama lawmakers look for a fix

Lawmakers began scrambling for ways to protect Alabama in vitro fertilization services after multiple providers paused services in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos could be considered children under a state law.

5 hours ago

Beguiling Joshua trees and intriguing rock formations helped draw millions of vistoris to Joshua Tr...

Forrest Brown, CNN

The most visited National Park Service sites in 2023 are …

See what Utah National Park proved to be the most popular in 2023.

6 hours ago

FILE - The residence where a former funeral home owner kept a deceased women's body in a hearse for...

Associated Press

A former funeral home owner has been arrested after a corpse lay in a hearse for 2 years

A former funeral home owner accused of hiding a woman's corpse in the back of a hearse for two years and hoarding the cremated remains of at least 30 people has been arrested, authorities said.

7 hours ago

FILE: The University of Wyoming campus sign with the Wyoming Union in the background Friday March 2...

Mead Gruver

Highway crash in Colorado kills three University of Wyoming swimmers

A single-vehicle wreck on a highway in northern Colorado killed three members of the University of Wyoming swimming and diving team.

12 hours ago

This image released by the U.S. Department of Justice in an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Co...

Denise Lavoie and Matthew Barakat, Associated Press

4 charged in transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons. Two SEALs died in intercepting the ship

Four foreign nationals have been charged with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons after U.S. naval forces interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea last month.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

California proposal to ban youth tackle football clears first legislative hurdle