With a football helmet in hand, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, won preliminary approval from the House today for a bill to ensure school districts keep close tabs on how often helmets are checked and repaired. The measure would require school districts to keep a record of each helmet's age and the date it was reconditioned. Districts would also be forced to retire helmets after 16 years and recondition helmets 10 years or older every two years.
Football is an “inherently dangerous” sport, Lucio said, noting that his bill would guarantee districts maintain minimum standards for helmet safety. “This is like putting your seat belt on,” he added.
Supporters say an estimated 43,000 to 67,000 high school students get football-related concussions every year. Concussions don’t affect all players in the same way. Lucio said some athletes recover quickly, but not all do: He said it took Rep. Bill Callegari’s grandson nine months to heal from a concussion.
Mark Cousins, interim athletic director of the University Interscholastic League, told legislators in a committee hearing that UIL currently relies on the helmet manufacturers’ standards for reconditioning helmets. As most manufacturers recommend reconditioning helmets every two years, supporters say the bill should not affect schools’ budgets, as districts would only have to change the practice of record-keeping.
But opponents say the bill creates an unfunded mandate for schools that lack funding to recondition or buy new helmets. The cost of new helmets ranges from $150 to $300 a piece, and reconditioning can cost $25 to $50 per used helmet.
Lucio said no football program is mandatory. “If you’re going to make the expense of having a football program, hiring coaches, telling parents we’re going to do everything we can to protect your athletes,” then helmets should be safe, he argued.
And he said research shows the youngest players who are most susceptible to injury often have the poorest equipment. New equipment is usually given to varsity players, while older helmets are passed down to junior varsity and middle school teams, he said.
Lucio’s second bill on high school athletic safety, which would require all high school athletes to take a cognitive-linguistic test in addition to a physical examination before participating in sports, has been left pending in committee. Many professional teams use cognitive tests as a baseline. If a player sustains a serious head injury or concussion, the results can be compared to a secondary cognitive test to see if a player’s brain has fully healed.