Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

If you thought the fight to save tackle football in California was over, think again.

In 2018 a few state representatives pushed to ban tackle football for kids under 12 years of age, a proposal shelved due to the complete lack of thought, practicality and feasibility. It’s one thing to quote scientific studies to favor your argument, it’s another to back them up with nonsensical proposals.

Thanks to parents, fans and youth football leaders, your voice was heard in Sacramento and the “Safe Youth Football Act” failed to get enough votes in committee. The fight wasn’t over, as both the author and co-author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher vowed to continue their efforts to tell parents what they can and can’t do when it comes to matters of their own children. Gonzalez-Fletcher even claimed there would be no middle ground as she dismissed claims of government overreaching by telling the Orange County Register “we (government) play a lot of a role in the regulation of activities that involve children in particular.” Wow.

But, 2019 is here and again youth tackle football is set to make an appearance on the state legislative calendar, albeit this time from a more-constructive perspective but one that could lead the way for more unnecessary legislation.

AB 1, also known as the “California Youth Football Act,” authored by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove, would require all youth tackle football leagues to limit the amount of full-contact practices to two per week in both the preseason and regular season and prohibit contact practices in the off-season. It would also limit contact drills to just 60 minutes per practice.

While this bill is far better researched than the “ban it all” approach brought forth by his ignorant brethren one year ago, all this is asking is that youth football leagues adhere to the same regulations that California places on high school programs.

It also completely dismisses the way the game is being coached now. Full contact practices aren’t as physical as many of us once knew. The head is no longer taught as part of the tackling process among many other adjustments made over the last decade as an effort was made by USA Football, the NFL and others to make the game safer, minus government instruction.

As a matter of fact, Golden Empire Youth Football, the governing league of Tehachapi Youth Football, already limits contact practices to two per week and has a strict 45-minute limit on contact practices. They took the standards adopted by the California Interscholastic Federation and adjusted them for their younger players. They are ahead of proposed legislation in Sacramento by 15 minutes less of contact time per practice.

I fear that this latest proposal by Cooper, which is nothing more than a synergy attempt between the high school rules already in place and youth football leagues, will open the door once again to his counterparts who feel AB 1 “doesn’t go far enough.” How many times have we seen that in Sacramento? Just ask law-abiding gun owners and fans of plastic straws how that has worked out for them in recent years.

While I can’t support redundant time-wasting legislation when football has made more strides for safety than any other sport in recent years, I do appreciate some of Cooper’s language in the proposal. In section 1 he concludes “the decision to play youth football ultimately rests with the parents, after their thoughtful consideration of the risks and benefits, as to whether participation in youth football is in their child’s best interest.”

What? He must not have received the party memo. Imagine that, allowing parents to make decisions and entrusting adults to be responsible for the well-being of the children in their care. I’ve yet to meet a coach who intends to injure or harm the kids playing on their teams. Even winning takes a back seat to making sure each kid goes home safely and learns the safest way to play the game.

While this particular bill won’t have the immediate undoing effect of its predecessor, its approval will no doubt pave the way for another attack on a sport that is being taught in the safest and thoughtful manner in history.

But that’s never enough for some people now, is it?

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at corey.costelloe@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.