California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a proposal to ban youth tackle football. The bill, brought forth by the California Assembly, would have ended tackle football for children under the age of 12. Despite the veto, the National GOP was set to make the bill a talking point for the 2024 election year. The veto comes just days before Fox News was reportedly set to air a segment featuring a longtime youth football coach and top opponent of the bill. Newsom stated, “I am deeply concerned about the health and safety of our young athletes, but an outright ban is not the answer. 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.”
It is unclear whether there is a path forward for the bill this year or ever. New York State Democrats introduced a similar bill in 2023, banning tackle football for children under 12. The bill, introduced by New York Assemblymember and longtime youth sports safety advocate Michael Benedetto, has never made it to a full vote on the Assembly floor. Benedetto has introduce similar youth tackle bans for a decade, with no success. He stated, “Even with the science going more and more my way, it is still a contentious issue. I’m generally viewed in certain parts of the state of New York as somebody to be vilified, because I’m wussifying the children of America.”
A 2021 study by the CDC found that athletes ages 6-14 sustained 15 times more head impacts playing tackle football than playing flag football. High-magnitude head impacts were 23 times more frequent in tackle football. In 2019, Canada banned tackle football for children 12 and under because of player safety concerns. The move came after football participation decreased by 40% over the previous decade.
Similar declines in tackle football participation are documented in the U.S.. Between 2016 and 2021, regular participation in tackle football among kids 6 to 12 fell 26 percent, according to survey data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. The NFL has made a concerted effort investing in youth flag football. According to the Washington Post, more kids age 6 to 12 now play flag football than tackle football. At the high school level, football remains the most popular high school sport by a wide margin. The National Federation of State High School Associations found that tackle football participation in American high schools grew about 5 percent from 2021 to 2022 after a drop during the pandemic.