As we, the California Youth Football Alliance, embark on our mission to make youth tackle football the safest sport in California, we are humbled by our experiences to date. Over the course of the last two decades in youth football, I have learned many things, some of which I want to share here today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To start, the youth football community of California is strong, honorable, passionate, and loving of their children first, and the sport second. Around this time last year, the bill to ban youth tackle football was published in California. Within months it was also alive in 4 other states: Illinois, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. I had been walking the sidelines of youth tackle football fields on the East Coast, and the West Coast for 10+ years by the time I was confronted by the bill in California. The bill’s intention, the ensuing messages, and the media rhetoric was not consistent with the experiences I have been blessed to have across our country. I have seen you, the youth tackle football community, volunteer countless hours of time to support young men and women, in their pursuit of success on the football fields. I have seen coaches teaching our youth the very best techniques in youth tackle football. I have seen these same grown men and women, embrace each other with competition as well as compassion, not just shaking hands but hugging each other after a game regardless of the outcome. I have seen parents share the blessing of their child with football coaches, allowing them to play a sport because it is in the child’s heart to play. I have seen parents smile with great pride as their child makes a play and achieves a new athletic experience. I have spoken with these same parents who tell me how their child is fundamentally more mature, disciplined, and focused at home and in school, as a result of playing youth football. In every discussion, the focus is on the children and their experience. I share these observations in honor of the question that Dr. Martin Luther King posed to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957, “What are you doing for others?” I see administrators, coaches, parents, players, and communities rally around our youth football players creating ripples of growth and planting seeds of character that will continue to impact our world as these children grow up to join the millions of former youth football players who are making an impact in their communities today.
In addition to coaching football, I have coached basketball and baseball while watching my sons compete in lacrosse, rugby, and horse jumping. With these experiences, I can confidently say youth football is improving at a pace that exceeds all other youth sports with respect to equipment, technology, coaching, rule changes and oversight. For decades, the global football community has been investing in advancements of the sport. I have seen new helmet technology made available to improve the safety of our youth. I have seen sideline technology implemented that allows youth football administrators and coaches to monitor the quality of practice and games. I have participated in coaching clinics and certifications that have made me a better parent of my own children by learning the power of positive coaching and becoming certified in first aid, as examples. I have seen the elimination of kick offs at the youngest of youth levels as well as new rules at the high school, college, and professional level designed to remove the head from play. I have enforced these new standards as a President of a youth football organization. Finally, as a result of these experiences, I can tell you that the game of youth football is not the game that I, nor you, played growing up. The developments of the sport are cascading down from the NFL, and in many cases the newest safety standards are being developed and implemented in the youth game. With all this said, while we are headed in the right direction, I still see opportunity to accelerate our progress. More can and will be done to make equipment, technology, coaching, rule changes, and oversight more efficient and effective so that the best is made available to every corner of the state of California. On behalf of the California Youth Football Alliance, you have our promise to make this happen.
While I am proud of our past, and excited about our future, there are many others who don’t share the experiences outlined above. In fact these others, our youth football opposition, act in ways that denigrate, vilify, and weaponize our sport and our community. I read twitter posts, news articles, and editorials on a daily basis that use language that inspires fear, loss, and even hatred. I don’t care what your political affiliation is, but we, the California Youth Football Alliance, are committed to making our sport the safest in California by enhancing our safety standards, creating effective solutions to implement these standards, seeking the truth from the medical community, and advancing our children’s and our sport’s future. We commit to pursue these outcomes with equal to or greater passion than a 4th and inches on the goal line with 3 seconds left on the clock. We are calling our youth football community together in a manner that has never been achieved before today. We must not fall victim to the language of our opposition. I say this as I call upon the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We, the California Youth Football Community, must continue to focus on the love that we have for our children first, our sport second, and our future third.
In closing, I want to share one more insight into my experiences as a youth football parent, administrator, and coach. I share this with my hand on my heart, that in my experience, no youth sport brings together people from all walks of life like football. In fact, football might be the most perfect sport to embody the work of love, diversity, acceptance, and civil rights of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I look forward to seeing many more of you in the future, as my personal journey of walking the sidelines continues in this great state of California.