Parents’ Rights Groups Mobilize as California Advances a Ban on Youth Tackle Football

A La Costa Canyon Mighty Mavericks' player scored a touchdown during a Pop Warner football game against the Valley Center Mighty Jaguars in Carlsbad, in 2012. (Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters)

By Ryan Sabalow, CalMatters

Anaheim Assemblymember Avelino Valencia is a former tight end for Cal State San Jose who tried out for the NFL. Before entering politics, he was a community college football coach.

“The benefit that football has had in particular to my life, I cannot put a monetary amount on it,” he told his colleagues on the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports and Tourism Committee.

So it was painful for Valencia to throw his support behind a bill headed for the Assembly floor that would make California the first state to set a minimum age for tackle football — banning the sport for children under 12. But he said the evidence that the repeated brain trauma football players endure game after game is too clear.

“It’s because it is a very dangerous and violent sport,” he said, his broad shoulders filling his suit jacket like a set of football pads. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

The committee’s 5-2 party-line vote from Valencia and his fellow Democrats last week to advance the bill set in motion what’s likely to be one of the more emotionally charged issues California lawmakers will consider in 2024 as they wade into yet another contentious debate over parental rights.

This time, instead of vaccine requirements or LGBTQ policies at public schools, they’re debating the future of the country’s most popular sport, one that has a documented history of its players getting debilitating brain disease from repeated blows to the head. Several high-profile examples of former players – most notably the suicide of legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau who suffered from a degenerative brain disease – have prompted the NFL down to youth leagues to try to make tackling safer.

Researchers say tackle football is still dangerous despite the changes to the game. For instance, Boston University published research last year finding that players who’ve spent more than 11 years in the sport have an increased likelihood of brain trauma, leading to poor impulse control and thinking problems.

But there’s no guarantee Sacramento Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s bill will advance beyond the Assembly, even in a Legislature that’s not shy about citing medical research to make decisions that outrage parental-rights groups and become “nanny state” fodder for national conservative media.

Assembly Bill 734 would phase in a ban, first prohibiting children under 6 from playing tackle football starting in 2025, and working up to bar those younger than 12 by 2029. It must pass on the Assembly floor by the end of the month if it’s going to eventually make its way through the state Senate to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Newsom hasn’t indicated whether he’d sign the bill.

A handful of other state legislatures have debated similar youth tackle football bans. None have passed. A similar version of the bill in 2018 failed in California to even get out of committee.

Along the way, lawmakers are sure to see a repeat of last week’s hearing. Dozens of coaches, youth sports association officials, jersey-clad pre-teen football players and their parents spilled out of the hearing room into the hallway as they lined up to take the microphone and urge the committee to kill the measure.

The groups, including the California coalition of Save Youth Football, whose private Facebook group has nearly 7,000 members, have promised to keep up the pressure.

Already, the issue has taken on a partisan tone. A representative for Moms for Liberty, an influential group among conservatives known for seeking to ban textbooks that reference gender identity and academic discussions about systemic racism, was among those who testified in opposition last week.

“Huddle up California. Protect your parental rights. Stand up to Big Government,” the California Youth Football Alliance wrote on its Facebook page earlier this month, urging followers to contact McCarty’s office.

Youth tackle football fans cite race, community ties

But youth tackle football is different from other parental-rights debates that are more easily framed as a Republican-Democrat dichotomy.

As they weigh the bill, liberal lawmakers will consider arguments from the likes of  Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper, who opposes it.

Cooper, a Black former Democratic Assemblymember from Elk Grove, worries that banning youth tackle football would take away an outlet for young children in Black communities who might otherwise find their way into a gang.

“Notably, Black male children engage in youth tackle football at higher rates than any other race,” Cooper told the committee last week in his sheriff’s uniform. “To my knowledge, there’s been no pressure to limit participation in lacrosse, soccer or ice hockey, which all have concussion rates similar to youth tackle football but are prevalent in more affluent and exclusive communities.”

Lawmakers, he said, have already passed legislation he authored in 2019 that limited full-contact youth football practices to no more than 30 minutes per day, two days a week. That bill had support from the California Youth Football Alliance.

Lawmakers also will have to weigh their own experiences with the sport. Assemblymember Tom Lackey, one of the Republicans on the sports and tourism committee, told his colleagues last week that he’s “participated in flag football and … participated in tackle football. They’re different.”

“If we ban this sport, we take away the opportunity and many opportunities from children to grow – not only as an athlete – but as a self-actualized adult who knows when they have the capabilities to overcome an obstacle and achieve success further,” said Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol sergeant from Palmdale. “We take away a lifelong passion for the love of the game.”

Experts warn of dangers from tackling

McCarty, the bill’s author and a former Pop Warner youth football player himself, said wanting to restrict young kids from tackling each other won’t negate their love for football, a sport that he said has been part of his family for as long as he can remember.

“You can love football and love our kids and try to protect our kids at the same time,” he told the committee, after pulling out a ball with a 49ers logo.

The experts McCarty brought in to testify in support of his bill included pediatric neurologist Dr. Stella Legarda, president of the California Neurology Society, which sponsored the bill. The group spent $17,983 on lobbying last year on this bill and others, according to the latest reports filed with the California Secretary of State.

She pointed out that the NFL has been having its own players shed their pads and helmets to play flag football in its signature exhibition game, the Pro Bowl.

“When the NFL takes measures to protect its players by playing flag football in the Pro Bowl, it is not just safeguarding its multimillion investments,” Legarda told the committee. “It delivers the clear message that impact injuries and cumulative head trauma are perilous and should be minimized.”

Assemblymember Valencia, the former football player, told CalMatters in an interview that the bill and the concerns about the health of California’s youth football players were very much on his mind last year, as he stood on the sidelines of his alma mater, San Jose State, during its game with its rival, Cal State Fresno.

He said he was struck by “how violent and damaging” the sport he played is. He couldn’t imagine taking those sorts of hits at the speeds the players were moving, now, as a 35-year-old man.

Valencia said that young kids can play flag football and still learn the skills they’ll need to play tackle football when they’re older – without risking brain damage.

“Drills, becoming more athletic, agility, speed, that makes you a better football player,” he said. “But tackling? That comes second hand. You can figure that out in a very short period of time.”

This article was originally published by CalMatters.


Written by CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. (Articles are published in partnership with

What do you think?


0 Comments deleted by Administrator

Leave a Review or Comment


  1. At first glance, this is ridiculous and honestly, I think a little hypocritical. It should be up to the parents, not the State, to chose if their kid(s) play tackle football.

    That said, it appears the bill attempts to first ban kids under 6. Ok, absolutely fine with that. As a former player and being around the sport a lot, there is absolutely no need for kids that young to play with pads. I’ve seen some sickening videos on social media of little kids in helmets and pads that barely fit them doing super dangerous hitting drills with parents whooping it up and cheering them on. That’s awful. Stop that crap. Kids do NOT need to be hitting at that age to make them a better player. There are 7v7 and flag football leagues for kids 4 to 14 with no contact where they can learn the skill positions and the basic athleticism needed to excel once you put pads on in high school. There is NO reason to put kids in harms way that early.

    Now, up to ages 12 by 2029…. a little different. Kids who plan to play in high school, I think should have at least 1 year at a older level (ages 12-14) playing with pads and learning the physicality of the sport. Again, it’s not necessary to succeed in HS or beyond, but it does make more sense than playing and hitting at 5 years old. BUT….. this should be 100% up to the parents. Yes, it’s a dangerous sport, but if trained properly how to hit/get hit, the chances for serious brain injury go down.

    We can’t control every aspect of people’s lives.

      • No, but I see what you’re trying. Using your analogy, the protective gear and training are the seatbelts, not the act of driving the car. Banning kids from even having the option to participate in the sport would be like banning them from riding in cars. Like pads/helmets/proper training, seatbelts allow you to participate in a risky activity with some degree of protection. Remember, kids die every year in accidents while wearing seatbelts.

        I am absolutely for banning it for kids 6 and under, even 10 and under, but it’s a fine line. It’s a sport. Kids will get hurt. EVERY sport has a risk. Soccer, baseball/softball, lacrosse, especially are high impact sports that have very high risk of brain trauma as well. It should be up to the parents after a certain age.

  2. F’ing lame! First of all, no tackle football leagues include children under 6. Second, nobody does the old-school hitting drills like meet me in the ally or the gauntlet etc. It’s all about teaching kids how to hit and tackle SAFELY! Proper technique is everything and not super easy to learn. It is WAY better to learn young than when in HS where you really can get hurt because you have no idea what you’re doing. I coached YFL for my boys from the beginning to HS. The worst injury was a broken ankle… from a gopher hole at practice at Evergreen. That only happened because he was way adhd and being silly. High school is a different story; if you’re not prepared, you will not play (unless you’re an amazing athlete) and probably get injured. Let parents choose and stop with the whole nanny state crap. You politicians do not know what’s best for me and my family. Less dumb ass positions already! My god you voters are ignorant!

    • “First of all, no tackle football leagues include children under 6. ” – If that were true, they wouldn’t be doing this. Yeah, no local leagues have divisions younger than Bantam, but check out other cities.

      Second, nobody does the old-school hitting drills like meet me in the ally or the gauntlet etc. ” – Sure they do. I’ve seen it with my own eyes at a practice this fall. While some coaches (all I know in SB area) have moved to less violent practice, that’s not all leagues and coaches in CA.

      I agree, this should be up to the parents, but there are some programs in this state that allow under 6 and allow coaches to use the old school drills. I see videos of them daily and witnessed it firsthand. Sure, most are in Texas and the south, but there are CA programs that do this too.

      A kid playing tackle at 7, 9, even 10, isn’t necessarily going to be that much better in HS than a kid whose only played 1-2 years tackle in junior high and flag or 7v7 before that. Tougher and meaner maybe, but that’s it. Kids do not need more than a couple years at most to prep them for high school. Hitting/tackling comes easy. You don’t need to develop that over a kids childhood. They SHOULD be out running routes, getting agile, quick and developing arms and hands from a young age. You don’t need to tackle to learn the skills.

      Again though, should be up to the parents ultimately.

      • @Sac- You’re correct. I know that our area and who we play are bantam and up. I have not researched the rest of the state, so you may be right. I DO know that since I was A kid playing off Las Positas those drills were happening and was told we were “P-word” and to get up. The 15+ years in youth sports as a coach here have ALWAYS been about learning and safety. Maybe I’m naive and the rest of the state is trying to hurt their kids, but I don’t think so. The coaches are made up of dads…Of course, there are always a few dicks in the crowd, but not the majority.

        • OG – DPs past decade definitely shows something LOL! Not sure the cause is kids playing only 1or 2 vs whole life of yfl though. Lot of factors. Physical size is one thing I think is huge (no pun intended). Lot of small guys out there lately. Not the same when I played in the 90s. Chargers were big ol country boys. Now they’re just smaller I think. Hard to compete against larger and stronger players.

          • Sac- I just know that there was a severe drop-off after YFL got smaller. Maybe the kids did too!!! I think it has more to do with helicopter parents who don’t know and our know-all government. Hey, all the shit we did as kids and we’re still at it!

  3. Regarding how we raise our children…….Is another government established law/ban really the best solution?
    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate that our government work on improving our educational system so that people are better equipped at making informed decisions themselves?

Bucks Battle in Santa Barbara Foothills

Santa Barbara Zoo Lights