California Lawmakers Seek Ban on Tackle Football for Kids

The proposed ban, if passed, would initially prohibit children under six from participating in tackle football programs starting in 2025, then gradually include 10- and 12-year-olds over the following four years.

An assembly bill introduced in the California Legislature that seeks to prevent young children from playing tackle football made headway on Wednesday when the Assembly committee voted 5-2 to send it to the full chamber.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D – Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair), would ban children under six from playing youth tackle football on and after January 1, 2025. The ban would expand to include children under 10 in 2027 and those under 12 in 2029.

If the full Assembly approves the bill by the end of January, it advances to the Senate and eventually to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk.

According to an Associated Press report, the ban is fueled by increasing concerns over the uptick in concussions among young people and the growing popularity of flag football — a non-contact sport.

Opponents of the bill feel it overrides parental control over their children's activities and removes a crucial after-school sport and exercise opportunity.

Those who want to see the bill pass are hoping to prevent contact sport-related concussions among young people, which reports indicate are on the rise.

To date, no state has prohibited children from playing tackle football. In 2018, Assemblymember McCarty introduced a similar bill, but it failed to pass. New York and Illinois also tried to ban tackle football for kids but were unsuccessful.

"Football and organizational sports in general are clearly proven ways to keep kids out of trouble," Assemblymember Mike Gipson, chair of the California State Assembly's sports regulating committee, said in the AP report. "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."

How dangerous is tackle football?

In a CDC study published in 2021, out of 186,239 head impacts recorded, tackle football players sustained nearly 15 times more head impacts during a game or practice than flag football athletes.

Head impacts may result in a concussion, which, over time, can have potentially harmful long-term effects.

For example, 2023 research suggests that experiencing traumatic brain injuries or concussions may lead to lower cognitive scores by age 70.

A Harvard University study published in 2019 revealed that former National Football League (NFL) players who reported more concussion symptoms during their playing years, such as loss of consciousness, disorientation, and nausea, were significantly more likely to report having depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment later in life.

Another study published in 2023 found that men who reported playing football at the high school, collegiate, or professional level had higher odds of developing Parkinsonism or Parkinson's disease (PD).

To address concussion concerns, Pop Warner — a leading non-profit youth football, cheerleading, and dance organization — states that it promotes football-related safety measures. The organization says it has done this by reducing contact to 25% of football practice time, eliminating kickoffs for the youngest divisions, and requiring any player who experiences a suspected head injury to receive clearance from a concussion specialist before returning to play.

Still, due to the potential long-term harms from concussions, the Concussion Legacy Foundation strongly recommends that parents delay signing their child up for tackle football until they reach the age of 14. Instead, they say parents should consider enrolling children younger than 14 in flag football or other non-contact sports.

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