It was supposed to be a light week—us sports writers look forward to the summer months as much as the students, after all. That was until around 1 PM on Monday, June 10, when I was forwarded an email from a Town of Bourne resident, who will remain anonymous for the purposes of this story, by my editor Jim Kinsella.
The subject line was fairly nondescript, titled only as ‘Bourne High School football.’ My initial thought was that the e-mail pertained to highlighting a graduating senior who will go on to play the game at the collegiate level. It took me reading the first sentence to realize that was not the case of this resident.
“Bret Farve (sic), Hall of Fame quarterback, has begun a campaign to expose the dangers of CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy—caused by repeated blows to the head while playing football,” this person wrote.
After reading the first sentence I thought this was a generic email sent by a public relations firm looking to promote a new book or national initiative. Those are emails, as a sports editor, I regularly receive. But as the message continued, that was not the case.
“It is time for responsible adults in Bourne to take a stand against high school football and encourage alternative sports. We should protect young men of the community from injuries that they will suffer from for the rest of their lives,” it read, citing the 2015 film “Concussion” and former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez as other examples. “I urge the Town of Bourne to end football at Bourne High School for the sake of the young men in Bourne.”
This individual is not alone in this thinking—at least as it pertains to persuading others in the state to place bans on the sport in the state. A group of Massachusetts lawmakers proposed a bipartisan bill, known as No Hits, back in March that would ban organized youth tackle football until after the 7th grade. The bill, if accepted by the state, would impose financial penalties—ranging from $2,000 to $10,000—for any school, league or other entity that does not comply.
But the question I pose to you, the reader, is rather simple. Should the right to choose be taken away from the families and student-athletes and placed in the hand of politicians?
I contend, vigorously, that it should not. The onus should fall squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Healthy conversations about the risks of playing football at any level—and, yes, there is no denying the risks—should be had by the families and the student-athletes about what is best for them and their children.
This bill and what this emailer is suggesting take away the opportunity for such conversations. Not to mention, it would force the opinions of some on the masses.
While the information that’s been set forth on the dangers of concussions in recent years brings a rightful sense of concern, it also carries with it a heightened sense of awareness. For example, on the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (MIAA) football web page there is a PDF attachment of practice guidelines that all teams in the state must abide by. There must be two days of helmets-only conditioning days with a maximum limit set at two hours. There is a minimum of one hour of rest periods that must be implemented, defined by the MIAA as “the time between the end of a walkthrough/practice and the beginning of the next walkthrough/practice.”
In fact, during preseason practices half of the two-week period is spent on conditioning, walkthroughs and light contact, defined by the MIAA as “participation in air and bag drills and simulations.” And once the regular season starts, full contact almost completely halts, out of, what I would imagine to be, fear of friendly fire.
Two-a-day practices are practically nonexistent. Sleepaway football camps are virtually nonexistent. And such formations as two- and three-man wedges have been thrown out of the game (although those rules may be brought back as the state transfers to National Federation High School rules—that, too, is still up to a debate).
The point is, with the information that is now readily available to families, coaches and administrators comes education on how to prepare and coach student-athletes the right way. And I refuse to be bullied by politicians posturing for reelection pandering to the thoughts of a few and forcing them onto the masses.
What is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.