Youth tackle football ban dead after Newsom vows veto

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers on Wednesday shelved a proposal that would have banned youth tackle football a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom took the unusual step of saying he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, the bill’s author and a candidate for mayor of Sacramento, said he would not continue advancing the legislation, which cleared its first committee hearing last week and was expected to get a floor vote as soon as this week.

“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 in a statement to POLITICO.

The debate over the American institution touched a nerve, opening Democrats to accusations of overreach during an election year, even as proponents said it was essential to protect children from serious brain injury. The proposal's swift demise showed a reluctance by legislative leaders to challenge the governor, and the news came as a disappointment to lawmakers who were ready to take on the controversial proposal.

"Despite being torn on this bill, I am disheartened that the debate had an abrupt halt," said Democratic Assemblymember Avelino Valencia, a former college football player at San Jose State who represents parts of Orange County. "We all have a different perspective on what the health and safety of young athletes means."

Tina McKinnor, a Democratic assemblymember from Hawthorne, said she was also hoping the bill would still make it the floor — and that supporters would be able to persuade the governor to change his mind. "I think it's a great bill," McKinnor said. "I don't think that my colleagues vote based on what the governor is saying."

Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation who has supported prior proposals in California and other states, said he was disappointed in the governor’s announcement — though he said he understands that politicians don’t want the “heat” from backing a youth tackle football ban.

“This is a difficult issue to get behind politically because football is the most popular sport in the country,” Nowinski said. “But that said, we still have to answer for why we are giving children [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] when we don’t have to.”

McCarty didn't announce he was shelving the bill until late afternoon, but once it became clear the proposal wasn't going anywhere without Newsom's blessing, some lawmakers made it clear they had never been in favor of it.

State Sen. Angelique Ashby — who is backing McCarty's opponent in the Sacramento mayoral election — posted on X that the bill was "overly presumptive" and "ignores safety protocols already in place."

Though it's a win for parental rights activists, Republicans are not letting Newsom score any political points. At a pre-planned rally against the bill that had been organized before it was shelved, Newsom's name wasn't even invoked to the crowd of protesters cheering what he'd done to kill it.

"Never forget that @GavinNewsomis no savior of youth sports," Republican Assemblymember Joe Patterson posted online. "The man effectively closed them down for at least one season."

Ariel Gans contributed to this report.