Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

The California Youth Football Act, or Assembly Bill 1, was passed through the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, essentially ending the debate on these pages about the validity and necessity of legislation on the matter.

When I first wrote about AB 1, it was perceived as another “here we go again” attempt at limiting and eventually banning tackle football, as was the case with AB 2108, which was introduced in 2018 but failed to get out of committee, much to the chagrin of the author and co-author (who has since sent me a few rather-unpleasant emails from her personal account). While AB 2108 sought to ban tackle football for kids prior to high school, I was informed by local sources that AB 1 was actually presented in part by the California Youth Football Alliance, a group of concerned coaches whose intentions were genuine.

While AB 1 will go into effect in January of 2021, much of what it requires is already being practiced locally, both with the Golden Empire Youth Football League, in which President Ron White worked closely with Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove to write this bill, and at the high school level. The new standards under AB 1 will limit full-contact practices to two per week during the preseason and regular season while also limiting contact time to 30 minutes per practice. These requirements are actually allowing more contact than Golden Empire currently allows in their programs, so the Tehachapi Tomahawks are already compliant.

There are several other provisions like the recertification of helmets, the presence of medical professionals at games and at least one adult who has CPR and concussion protocol training at each practice. These are provisions that organizations and schools that cared about their kids already had in place. Like any piece of legislation, it was the abusers who sparked the conversation and required it to be taken to another level. Those “All-Star” teams and privately funded leagues of “elite” players traveling the nation in search of mythical “National Championships” were the culprits. Some of them were taking advantage of kids and parents for profit and allowing safety to slide, and here we are today.

I fully believe that you can never legislate common sense. Unfortunately, it’s that lack of common sense among a small number of coaches and, yes, sometimes parents, that require legislation. It’s an odd world we live in. However, we can also see this as a continued opportunity to evolve the sport of football. I’ve subscribed for years to the fact that most heavy-handed contact was the result of better equipment; as helmets and facemasks evolved, so did the propensity to use that helmet as a weapon. I should know; I think I led with my head on every block and tackle I was ever a part of, but times have changed. It’s time to embrace better tactics while taking responsible advantage of that advanced equipment for safety reasons, not weaponry, and I’ll note that most leagues and teams have already done so.

I think football has undergone a learning curve over the last five years or so. At every level of the game changes have been implemented to focus on player safety. Even us fans who used to grumble about the game turning away from its violent origins can admit we’d rather see all the players go home in one piece than carried out on a stretcher, their lives negatively impacted forever. This is not the Coliseum in Rome; we’re not feeding people to lions — we’re talking about a game. A game with certain inherent risks due to its contact-foundation, but minimizing those risks is now the responsibility of those in charge.

So, as this chapter of football legislation-debate closes, I’m hoping another doesn’t open any time soon. I’m fully confident that the provisions in this law will continue to help the game evolve in a positive manner and keep our kids safe. Part of the intention of the California Youth Football Alliance and Assemblyman Cooper was to keep the anti-football-lawmakers at bay with sensible legislation.

Hopefully this does the trick, because it’s just about time to enjoy football again, and not continually fight to keep it alive.

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.