California Legislation Advances Bill to Ban Tackle Football for Children Under 12, Aimed at Reducing Brain Injuries

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is moving closer to potentially becoming the first state to implement a ban on tackle football for children under 12 in an effort to reduce the risk of brain injuries. A bill introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty recently cleared a key legislative hurdle, receiving a 5-2 vote in favor during a public hearing. However, the bill still has a long way to go before it could become law this year, needing approval from the state Assembly before the end of January.

Supporters of the bill argue that it will protect children from the potential brain damage associated with tackle football, which studies have shown increases with prolonged exposure to the sport. On the other hand, coaches and football advocates argue that the ban would deprive children of physical activity and a valuable after-school activity. Currently, no state has implemented a ban on tackle football for kids. McCarty previously introduced a similar bill in 2018, which did not pass, and similar proposals in New York and Illinois also failed to advance.

McCarty explained that the bill aims to set rules to protect the brains of the youngest children, aligning with existing regulations for other contact sports in the state. If the bill passes, the ban on tackle football would be phased in gradually, starting with children under 6 in 2025, followed by those under 10 in 2027, and finally extending to those under 12 in 2029.

While some critics argue that the ban would disproportionately affect underserved communities, supporters highlight the increasing popularity of flag football as a safer alternative. Flag football has gained traction across the country, with a growing number of scholarship opportunities for female players. The NFL has also supported flag football, with plans for it to be included in the LA Games in 2028.

Research has shown that tackle football can cause brain damage, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which kills nerve cells in the brain. Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, emphasized the importance of protecting children from such risks.

California already has regulations in place to limit full-contact practices for high school and youth football teams, as well as requirements for concussion and head injury education for youth football officials. Participation in tackle football at the high school level in California has been declining, with a 2022 survey reporting an 18% drop since 2015. However, there was a 5% increase in participation in 2023, with a total of 89,178 players.

As the bill progresses through the legislative process, California could potentially become a trailblazer in protecting young children from the risks associated with tackle football. The state’s decision on this issue has the potential to influence other states and shape the future of youth football across the country.