California could soon outlaw tackle football for children under 12 amid concerns over health and safety.

Lawmakers in the state will initiate debate on Wednesday on whether to ban tackle football in an effort advocates say would protect kids from brain damage or other medical issues. The bill’s critics include coaches who warn a ban on tackle football would cut off youths from an important source of physical activity.

The bill, authored by Democratic Assembly member Kevin McCarty, is scheduled to have its first public hearing before a legislative committee and is still a long way from passing. Wednesday’s hearing is crucial as the bill must clear the state Assembly by the end of January to have a chance of becoming law this year.

The move would follow previous attempts in California to ban tackle football for kids, as well as in New York and Illinois, which have all failed to pass.


California law already bans full-contact practices for high school and youth football teams during the offseason and limits them to two practices per week during the preseason and regular season. Both precautions are to avoid unnecessary physical contact for safety reasons.

Separately, a law that took effect in 2021 requires youth football officials to complete concussion and head injury education in addition to other safeguards.

If passed, McCarty’s bill would not take effect until 2026.

Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and former Harvard football player and WWE professional wrestler said research has shown tackle football can cause brain damage such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can then cause the death of nerve cells in the brain. This risk increases the longer the sport is played, according to Nowinski.


“I don’t have a problem with NFL players, who are adults and understand the risk and are compensated, risking CTE,” Nowinski said. “I can’t imagine a world in which we have children, who don’t understand the risk, doing this for fun (and) taking the same risk with their brain.”

No state has banned tackle football.

Tackle football at the high school level in California has been declining with participation dropping more than 18% from 2015 to 2022.

The decline came from a high of 103,725 players to 84,626 players, according to the California Interscholastic Federation’s participation survey.

In 2023, football participation increased by 5%, up to 89,178 players.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.