Northwest Herald sports editor Jon Styf and columnist Tom Musick discuss proposed legislation to limit the number of days high school football teams can have contact drills per week heading into Monday's forum on the topic in Vernon Hills.
Styf: I love football. You love football. Even politicians love football. The difference between us? We're not trying to tell how to coach. This isn't the movies. I truly don't believe we have to protect our kids from the high school football coaches. They understand, like so many of us do now, that head trauma in football is real, dangerous and sometimes even preventable. I just think that politicians, especially in this state, have a laundry list of things to solve. High school football practice doesn't need to be one of them.
Musick: This is a tough one for me. I see your point about the state having bigger issues to solve, but on the other hand, I always have thought that high school football is at least as dangerous as professional football. We're lucky in McHenry County because the majority of our coaches are informed and understand the bigger picture. But I don't think that's true in every county, which means that a lot of players are facing extra risks for head injuries.
Styf: Head trauma and repeated hits to the head are serious, very serious. CTE (I won't bore you with the technical name) and Alzheimer's-like issues down the road are the ultimate fear. I don't see how this legislation would solve or even help it. To me, it's an argument of local or statewide control of something that really should be the school and parent's responsibility. Politicians have a lot of duties, dictating your kid's high school football practice shouldn't be one of them.
Musick: I trust my flimsy bookcase more than I trust most lawmakers. But here's the thing: If the legislation would limit full-contact practices during the week, that would mean fewer collisions for high school players. And that would help to deter the repeated, sub-concussive blows that are so dangerous in the long term. Reducing contact in practice would be a partial solution, which is better than no solution at all.
Styf: Football is a contact sport. This changes that. Players need to be prepared to tackle the right way. Otherwise, there are a lot of other ways they can be injured, sometimes just as bad as the potential CTE. The truth is doctors know less than you would think about what causes one player to get CTE and another, put in the same exact situation, to not get it. What we do know is that football is dangerous, and if you're going to play it at full speed you need to be trained in the proper way. Haven't you seen the pilot of "Friday Night Lights" (the TV version)? Jason Street was never taught the right way to tackle. That's why he got hurt.
Musick: For sure, we'll never eliminate risk from football. What I'm saying is that we can reduce the risk. Any coach will tell you that tackling is all about technique. You can learn technique by using tackle dummies. You can learn technique by having tacklers participate in half-speed drills against ball carriers again and again. And you can put those lessons to the test every week with one full-tackle practice that can be studied later on film. Coaches will grumble about this, of course. But we know so much more now than we did back in 1988. It's time for a new chapter of "Friday Night Lights."
• Write to Jon Styf at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JonStyf. Write to Tom Musick at email@example.com and follow him @tcmusick.