Bill to Set Minimum Safety Standards for Concussion Management in Schools Reintroduced in Congress

On January 26, 2011, Democratic lawmakers reintroduced legislation, Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act, that would set minimum safety standards for concussion management in public schools across the country.

The legislation would, for the first time, ask school districts to implement a concussion safety and management plan. It would require schools to post information about concussions on school grounds and on school websites. It would also support when in doubt, sit it out policies for students suspected of sustaining a concussion during a school-sponsored athletic activity.

The National Football League (NFL) has endorsed the legislation and is working on similar protocols for their players. The legislation is also supported by the American College of Sports Medicine. Concussions cause a spectrum of symptoms, commonly including altered mental status, physical symptoms, cognitive problems and difficulty sleeping.

The number, type, and duration of symptoms vary widely for each person. In comparison to older athletes, symptoms are intensified and recovery is prolonged for youth. Without proper identification, multiple concussions can lead to chronic diseases. Nearly 90 percent of students report significant worsening of post-concussion symptoms when they attempt school tasks.

Attention is now being paid to improving the design of football helmets. The current standard does not address the risk of a concussion caused by less severe impacts or by rotational acceleration resulting from indirect hits that spin the head and brain. The standard also does not distinguish between helmets designed for professional, high school and younger football players.

U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), is the original sponsor of the bill. The promulgation of standards would obviously protect the players from being exposed to further injury. Standards would also give coaches further pause because a deviation from the standards would provide an objective measure of negligence, making it easier to establish liability for failing to act reasonably to protect the health of players.

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