Tackle football in Maryland schools won't be going away after all

Last month we looked at pending legislation in Maryland which would have banned tackle football and “headers” in soccer for elementary and middle school students. It was an effort to address complaints about brain injuries which might be incurred from repeated blows to the head. As we noted at the time, there was a significant amount of pushback coming from coaches, parents and community leaders. It appears that the members of the legislature were actually listening to the public because the measure has now been rejected in committee and is effectively dead at this point. (Baltimore Sun)

A Maryland House of Delegates committee has killed a bill that would have prohibited tackling in football and heading in soccer by kids in elementary and middle school.

The Ways and Means Committee overwhelmingly rejected the measure, which its sponsor had called a “public health” bill.

“I really did not expect it to pass, but I think it’s a conversation we have to have and I don’t think the conversation is over,” Del. Terri Hill, the Howard County Democrat who filed the legislation, said Monday.

“Culturally we love football, I love football,” said Hill, a surgeon. “It’s difficult to appreciate that something we really enjoy — with clear benefits to our kids — may be hurting them without our knowledge.”

The committee heard from nearly three dozen witnesses when the bill was brought up for debate and 25 of them were opposed to the legislation. Further, an online petition to “stop the bill” had collected thousands of signatures and was drawing a lot of attention in the media. This was one case where the public managed to quickly make their voices heard and got the attention of their elected officials.

I’m not going to mock Terri Hill for her efforts here. Even if she knew that the measure was likely destined for failure, I agree that it’s an important topic of particular concern to parents and an informed discussion was probably long overdue. Hill is a surgeon so she clearly has the background to speak to this subject. But at the same time, legislators need to be reminded from time to time that it’s sometimes necessary to curb their natural tendencies to bring down the hammer of government and ban things every time a problem arises.

Brain injuries in the young are a serious matter, even more so than adults. While much progress has been made in improving safety equipment for student sports programs as well as changes to the rules to limit concussions, there’s probably more progress that can be made. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that football (and to a certain extent, soccer) is more than simply a beloved tradition in America. For many kids, particularly those from economically disadvantaged areas, it may be their only shot at a chance to go to college. For some tiny fraction of them, it could even lead to a career in professional sports.

I’ve found the entire national discussion on concussions and traumatic brain injuries in football to be very informative and a number of my early reactions to these stories were clearly off base. I now agree that it’s not enough to simply say, in the old days, real men played the game in leather helmets or no helmets at all, so stop being such whiners. We’ve seen enough individuals by now who have been permanently disabled or even lost their lives from repeated blows to the head.

But that doesn’t mean that we simply start banning football, even at grade school level. We just have to do better in terms of safety, and this is one story where we can happily report that definite progress is being made.