Youth Concussions Continue to Receive Attention from National and Local Legislatures

The sports pages the last several months have been filled with reports of Congressional hearings and testimony concerning concussions and the National Football League particularly the long-term health effects of head injuries on players. Years ago when people thought about football players injuries, the attention was focused more on injuries such as knee injuries and other effects on bone structure, such as arthritis. When I was in law school, research I undertook in connection with a project revealed statistics that showed that the life expectancy of professional football players was lower than the general population because of such injuries.

On Tuesday, the Suffolk County Legislature approved unanimously a bill that would require county-contracted youth sports agencies to develop a written policy to address incidents of a possible or actual concussion or other head injury among participants, provide parents with head injury information and prevent athletes from returning to play until they are medically cleared. County Executive Steve Levy plans to sign the measure into law. This continues Suffolk County’s paramount concern for the safety of the public.

At the national level, the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act was introduced in Congress earlier this year. The Act aims to establish guidelines in schools for the treatment and diagnosis of concussions and emphasizes the importance of base-line diagnostic testing at the youth levels before athletes participate in contact sports. This past week the House Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold a session called “Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries, Part II” on January 4 in Detroit to follow-up to see if players are being sufficiently protected.

After Congressional hearings this past October, the NFL announced stricter return-to-play guidelines that make it tougher for players to get back on the field after head injuries and each team must consult with independent neurologists when dealing with head injuries. Other rule changes to deal with head and neck injuries were implemented before the current season. Similarly, an NCAA committee recommended this week a new rule that would sideline an athlete for at least the rest of the day if he or she loses consciousness or shows other worrisome symptoms during competition. The rule would apply to all NCAA sports.

The known dangers to professional athletes has extended beyond football and boxing. It was reported this week that former NHL player Reggie Fleming had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a type of brain damage caused by repeated head trauma. Fleming, who died in July, was the first hockey player known to have been tested for the disease. Eleven former National Football League players have been found to have the same disease.

As I follow the present discussion regarding professional athletes, I wonder about student athletes who are subject to the same risks but may not have the same quality of equipment or medical/training staff.This blog previously wrote about the dangers of using previously damagedfootball helmets a prevalent practice inschool sports. During the 2007-08 school year, high school athletes alone reported approximately 137,000 concussions nationwide and it is believed that thousands more went unreported or undiagnosed. Additional head injuries before the first concussion has healed may trigger “second impact syndrome,” a rare but serious condition that causes permanent brain damage or death.

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