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| Thursday, Jan 18, 2024
Youth Football
People attend a rally in support of youth tackle football on Jan. 17, 2024, at the California State Capitol. Alan Riquelmy/Courthouse News.


By Alan Riquelmy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Supporters of youth tackle football won the game before they stepped onto the field Wednesday morning.

Rallying outside the California State Capitol, they emphasized their fight against Assembly Bill 734 — which would ban the sport for kids under 12, if passed — isn’t over. Despite California Gov. Gavin Newsom saying he wouldn’t sign it, the bill still lingers on Assembly agendas. And there’s always next season.

“Some people see this as a sign this process is over,” said Ron White, president and chairman of the California Youth Football Alliance, moments before Wednesday’s rally began. “We do not.”

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat and the bill’s author, has said he loves football. But he also says there’s no way to safely play the sport. His bill would phase in a ban for kids under 12, letting children currently playing it continue.

Newsom did an end-run around the legislative process when he issued a statement before Wednesday’s rally saying he wouldn’t sign any bill that bans youth tackle football.

“I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of our young athletes, but an outright ban is not the answer,” Newsom said. “My administration will work with the Legislature and the bill’s author to strengthen safety in youth football — while ensuring parents have the freedom to decide which sports are most appropriate for their children.”

McCarty in a Wednesday statement said he won’t proceed with his bill.

“I do look forward to the governor’s invitation to work on ways to better protect our youngest athletes and keep them safe from repetitive head hits, which can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” McCarty said.

At an October hearing, Dr. Stella Legarda — a clinical neurophysiologist and epilepsy specialist — said a study including 214 former football players found those who began playing the sport before 12 had over two times the probability of impairments in behavior regulation and executive function. They had three times the probability for elevated depression scores.

Over 100 people gathered Wednesday at the Capitol for the rally against McCarty’s bill. They were thankful to the governor, but also wary of future attempts to ban the sport. Many held signs. One stated “Don’t Fumble Our Freedom.” Another message said, “We love football; McCarty is not my father.”

Many speakers at Wednesday’s rally went on the offensive about parental rights. Steve Famiano, a leader with the Save Youth Football California Coalition, said he never thought the struggle to save youth tackle football would develop into a parental rights discussion.

“I’m glad it has,” Famiano added. “We know as parents what we need to do with our children.”

Assemblymember James Gallagher — a Yuba City Republican and his chamber’s minority leader — pointed to Assembly Bill 1, passed in 2019, which created safety measures and requirements for the sport and had the support of football organizations. He said people like White and Famiano have fought for six years against efforts to ban youth tackle football.

“We keep stopping it, but it keeps coming back,” Gallagher said, adding moments later: “I’m glad the governor took our talking points — parents get to decide, not the government.”

Sporting a Green Bay Packers cheesehead hat, Assemblymember Tom Lackey — a Palmdale Republican — said supporters of the sport stopped a “bureaucratic blitz.” But he added the battle isn’t over.

“Put your chin straps on,” he advised.

Other speakers pointed to the science of sports injuries and how youth tackle football helps minority and disadvantaged children.

Erica Tyler, a professor of biological anthropology at Folsom Lake College, said all sports carry risk of injuries from kicks, hits and falling down. She understands the seriousness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a brain disorder likely linked to repeated head injury — but argued banning youth tackle football isn’t the answer.

Tyler also said McCarty’s bill ignores how football can help disadvantaged children.

Ranon Ross Sr. — a volunteer with youth football organizations, including as regional vice chairman with American Youth Football — said the blueprint for inclusion is found in the sport. Diversity exists throughout youth football groups, which include girls and disabled children.

“The fight is not over,” Ross said. “Let’s prepare to move forward.”

Attending the rally with his two children, Jason Hartman of Citrus Heights said he took off work to be there. A football and wrestling coach, Hartman said he’s seen youth football change from a Wild West mentality to one of safety.

Hartman agrees children should be kept safe, but that shouldn’t lead to a youth football ban.

“Safety isn’t wrapping kids in a bubble,” he added.

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