Possibly Coming to a Texas High-School Football Field Near You: Only One Full-Contact Practice Per Week
Last Thursday, State Representative Eddie Lucio III, a Democrat from Brownsville, filed House Bill 887. If enacted, the law would limit middle-school and high-school football programs to one full-contact practice per week.
"Like most people, I'm influenced by the stories I read and the news I see...and how little we're doing," says Lucio about the bill that's similar to the Ivy League rule that limits full-contact practices to twice a week, which is three less than the NCAA permits.
How do some Texas high-school football coaches feel? Really happy and super stoked. (Actually, not at all.)
"Just like most of the legislation in Texas and in Washington, the writers of the proposed legislation neglect to seek input from the people who know the most about it," says Don Clayton, head football coach and athletic coordinator at Cinco Ranch High School. "[Lucio] needs to show me hard proof on how going full pads only once a week will accomplish what he desires."
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"Our starting free safety played an entire football season without a concussion and then suffered a concussion last Friday night in a basketball game," continues Clayton. "Do they want to introduce a bill recommending helmets for basketball?"
Lucio explains that he was inspired to file the bill following a November 2012 episode of HBO's Real Sports. In it, a group of Purdue University professors conclude that amateur athletes who aren't clinically diagnosed with a concussion are still experiencing fundamental -- and potentially harmful -- shifts in brain activity.
The HBO show originally aired more than a year after the publication of our investigative story "Knocked Out," which featured exclusive interviews with the Purdue professors as well as in-depth discussions of the sometimes irreversible and negative effects of sports concussions in young athletes. HB 887 isn't the first proposed concussion-based bill that has appeared before lawmakers in the Texas state capitol.
In June 2011, the Texas Senate pushed through House Bill 2038, also known as "Natasha's Law," by a 31-0 margin. Signed by Governor Rick Perry, the law, named after former soccer player Natasha Helmick, prohibits an athlete from returning to play until cleared by a licensed physician.
Additionally, Lucio says that he's drafted another bill "that the coaches' association supports" regarding concussion baseline exams such as the ImPACT Test. The neuropsychological exam, which can be unreliable and easily manipulated -- as well as Natasha Helmick's concussion-related health struggles -- are also explored in depth in "Knocked Out."
Lucio says that his father, fearing for his safety, wouldn't let him play football. Probably a good thing, Lucio explains.
"I have one cousin who told me he had a headache for an entire semester in college when he played football," he says. "It was very hard for him to get out of bed and function."
When asked if he's prepared for the inevitable blow back from football-obsessed Texans, Lucio says, "It's coming. It already has come."
Coaches in the Rio Grande Valley have argued with Lucio that if they aren't able to simulate game speed in practice, kids won't be prepared for game time and players could get hurt in other non-head-trauma ways.
Lucio's rebuttal to that: "I'm hoping that coaches are good enough and smart enough to be able to evolve and say we can work on skills and a player's development in ways to make the game as good if not better than we were traditionally.
"If it doesn't we're going to have a problem. We're just going to have a problem."