Greg Tepper tackles the latest legislative proposal limit full-contact practices.
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Ed. Note: The following is an editorial that reflects only the views of the author and not necessarily reflect the views of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
I have an intrinsic cynicism toward politics. For better or for worse, I generally assume that whenever a politician does something, they are doing it not for the betterment of society or their constituency, but rather for some sort of personal gain. Is that fair? Probably not. But I’ve been burned too many times by the political stove to want to lay my hand on it again.
It’s because of that cynicism that I think it’s noteworthy that I don’t believe that Texas State Representative Eddie Lucio III is proposing his latest legislation for himself, or for his own personal gain. I think he truly believes that it is for the betterment of the lives of young Texans, and I applaud him for that. But while the issue that he’s chosen to tackle is one worth tackling, his proposal is ham-handed and potentially counterintuitive.
On January 31, Rep. Lucio – a Brownsville attorney and a Democrat representing the 38th District in the Texas House of Representatives -- filed House Bill 887, which proposes a limit of just one full-contact practice per week for high school and middle school football programs during the season. It’s a bold proposal for the 34-year-old representative, and one that he thinks is necessary to protect the health and well-being of student-athletes.
"Texas has been and will continue to be a football state, but we must protect our young athletes," Lucio said in a statement that accompanied the bill. "This legislation is aimed at preventing the harm caused by undiagnosed concussions. The cumulative effect of subconcussive hits can lead to severe brain damage because the lack of diagnosis."
And here’s the thing: Rep. Lucio is right.
Safety should absolutely be the top concern with regards to high school football. I’ve written in the past that two-a-days is an archaic and dangerous practice that should go the way of its dinosaur brethren. And with the increased focus and research on concussions and the long-term effects of hits to the head, I agree with Rep. Lucio that steps – perhaps drastic ones – should be taken to ensure the safety of high school football players in Texas.
But the proposal in HB 887 goes too far, attempting to solve football’s safety crisis in one fell swoop.
The biggest issue isn’t about anything silly like tradition or that it’ll change football from what it once was. Here’s a news flash for football purists: as long as football players are suffering long-term health effects from their playing days, football is going to change, whether you like it or not.
No, the biggest issue plaguing this legislative proposal (which, to be sure, I do not believe will pass) is what it attempts to accomplish: safety.
Coaches across Texas – many of whom, admittedly, fall in the “football purist” category with which I so often find myself at odds – will argue that players have to learn how to hit. There’s a proper technique to making a tackle, to throwing a block, to taking a hit that needs to be taught. And, for better or for worse, the only way to ensure those lessons are learned is by doing them.
It is imperative that players learn how to hit properly in order to ensure the safety measures currently in place are effective. Without proper training, players could find themselves susceptible to even more concussions, spinal injuries and other dangers of the sport.
There’s a theory, pushed by pop psychology writer Malcolm Gladwell, that practicing anything for 10,000 hours of the course of a lifetime will make you an expert. I’m not sure that’s scientifically sound, and I’m certainly not suggesting that players spend 10,000 hours hitting, but it speaks to a greater truth: practice makes perfect, and in the case of a dangerous sport like football, that practice can be the difference between safety and peril.
I applaud Rep. Lucio for his dedication to making high school football safer in Texas. It’s clear to me that he has a passion for keeping kids safe, and some of his other proposals – like HB 68 (which seeks to establish baseline testing for concussions, giving doctors and trainers something to measure against before sending a player back out on the field) and HB 675 (which was passed in 2011 and strengthed the regulations surrounding the age and condition of football helmets) – are tremendous steps in the direction of safety.
But limiting full-contact practices during the season to just once per week is going too far, and could have a counterintuitive effect on the health and well-being of high school football players.
We absolutely should figure out a way to limit the cumulative effect of subconcussive hits that high school football players are taking, but not at the risk of endangering them further by removing their ability to learn how to hit properly and safely.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.