A law that would ban California youths under 12 from playing tackle football passed its first committee on Wednesday.
The full Assembly has until the end of January to approve it. If passed, the bill goes to the Senate and then to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
If signed into law by the governor, the Golden State could become the first state to ban children from playing the tackle version of the sport.
By a 5-2 vote on party lines, the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Tourism advanced AB 734, which would allow for youngsters starting in 2026 to play flag football, but not tackle.
“This is a tough choice telling parents what they can and can’t do. But every once in a while government steps up and says, you know what? Kids shouldn’t smoke. Kids shouldn’t have a firearm. Kids should wear seat belts,” bill author Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, told the committee.
Other medical professionals testified on behalf of the bill, citing studies about the risks of head trauma to youths.
Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper, who authored a youth football safety bill — AB 1 in 2019 — when he served in the Assembly, testified against McCarty’s bill.
“The confidence, mental well-being, and life skills fostered by the sport, particularly within the underserved communities, are immeasurable. For some adolescents, youth tackle football serves as their sole source of structure,” Cooper said.
McCarty countered that the same comradery can be found with flag football.
Several coaches and players offered public comment against the bill.
Tackle football at the high school level has been declining in California, the Associated Press reported. Participation dropped by 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.
However, football participation in California increased by 5% in 2023, up to 89,178 players.
How They Voted
Assemblymembers voting for the bill: Chair Mike Gipson, D-Carson; Mike Fong, D-Alhambra; Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood; Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles; and Avelino Valencia, D-Anaheim.
Valencia, a former college football player at San Jose State, said he was conflicted, but the science showed a ban is needed.
Voting no were Greg Wallis, R-Bermuda Dunes, and Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale.
The bill will now head to the Assembly floor. There is no timetable for a vote.