The question is a tough one to answer: How much protection is too much protection when it comes to keeping high school football players safe from head injuries? It's a question that's might be debated on the house floor in Austin, and in coach's offices all over the Lone Star state.
House Bill 887, a potential state law that would limit high school and middle school football programs to one or two full-contact practices a week was filed last Thursday by state representative Eddie Lucio III. San Benito head football coach and athletic director Spencer Gantt didn't see it coming. "I was shocked when I heard about it. I almost fell off my chair. If this keeps up, we'll be playing flag football before too long."
Lucio (D-Brownsville) is making a play for football player safety for the 2nd consecutive Texas legislature, having filed a bill requiring the replacement of a team's football helmets after a time limit last session. The Brownsville native has based this bill on the findings of a Purdue University study, highlighted on a recent HBO Real Sports episode, that found football players who suffer hits to the head with no symptoms of concussion, can still suffer severe, debilitating brain trauma later in life. The odds of that happening, according to the study, are lessened with time for rest and healing between full contact games or practices.
"If we allow multiple full contact practices in a week, it could be the straw that broke the camel's back, and lead to a severe brain trauma situation like the one that befell (deceased NFL player) Junior Seau," says Rep. Lucio, "and we cannot let that happen if we can prevent it."
Coaches like Gantt contend that limiting full contact practices could have the opposite effect and actually cause more injuries."You cannot emulate game speed in practice," says Gantt, a former athletic trainer with the Philadelphia Eagles, "and if you take the pads off you are setting the kids up for injuries on Friday night."
Lucio disagrees, saying, "There's a way to teach this without sacrificing health, " and adding that this rule has already been accepted by the NFL as part of it's wide ranging concussion prevention programs. The counter from Coach Gantt: pros don't need the teaching and practice that the kids do. "I hope it (the bill passing) doesn't happen."