News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

February 11, 2014

EDITORIAL: Enhanced law will do more to protect kids

Giving greater attention to concussions makes sense

TERRE HAUTE — It was a true no-brainer late last month when the Indiana Senate voted 45-1 to approve a bill that would add protection for high school athletes — such as your sons, daughters and grandchildren — who have or may have suffered a concussion.

The state Senate was acting to tighten coverage in a law passed in 2011 that was aimed at protecting high school athletes from the catastrophic results exhibited by athletes who have had their bells rung one too many times. Or two too many times. Or three or four or more.

Those results are scary, as we have seen most especially in football players and boxers who — later in life, but sometimes not that much later — have developed cognitive and other problems related to brain injuries.

These statistics don’t lie:

• About 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high school contact sports.

• About 34 percent of all college football players have had one concussion, and another 20 percent have had more than one.

• Sports are second to motor vehicle accidents as leading causes of brain injury among our young people, those between 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• In one study, 40 percent of players sustaining a concussion were found to return to action too soon — 16 percent on the same day they lost consciousness.

If those numbers weren’t headshaking enough, a recent scientific study involving the Indiana University School of Medicine found that “repeated blows to the head during a season of contact sports may cause changes in the brain’s white matter and affect cognitive abilities even if none of the impacts resulted in a concussion.” Those findings were published in the medical journal Neurology.

The Indiana law, passed three years ago, provides good safeguards to begin to reverse such numbers. Under that law, any athlete suspected of having a concussion must be removed from play immediately and not be allowed to return to play or practice until cleared to do so by a “licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and head injuries.” A written clearance must be issued.

The law also required schools to begin, in 2012, to reveal risks of brain injuries, each sports season, to parents and athletes.

It was a good bill that made good law.

The updates that have passed the Senate 45-1 will make it an even better law.

Those updates require that 24 hours must pass after an athlete was removed from play before he or she can return to action. That guards against a too-quick turnaround that technically follows the law.

A second part of the new bill places more responsibility on football coaches and assistant coaches. It would require those coaches, before coaching, to complete a sport-specific education course, at least every two years, that can help them better deal with possible concussions and other health and safety issues. The bill would require those coaches to pass a test showing that he or she comprehended the course material.

Coaches should readily agree to such education and testing just because it is in the best interests of their athletes. But taking the training and passing the test also can protect them from liability. In short, coaches who take the class, pass the test, avoid negligence or “willful or wanton misconduct,” are not liable for damages in a “civil action” arising from an athlete’s concussion or head injury.

The bill, originally authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, Republican from Markle, and Sen. Ron Atling, Republican from Lafayette, received its second reading in the Senate Monday and now goes to that body’s Education Committee. Eventually the bill could go to the Senate floor and then to the House of Representatives for consideration there.

The bill deserves unanimous votes in both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Mike Pence’s quick signature.

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