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Extending Concussion Safety Laws To Cover All Youth Sports Programs Essential, Says Sharon van Kooten of Indiana

State Law Developments

Some states have passed or adopted more comprehensive concussion legislation and regulations:

  • Louisiana's Youth Concussion Act applies to all elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools and all private clubs, public recreation facilities, and athletic leagues which sponsor youth athletic activities.
  • California's concussion safety law requires that any organization that uses school facilities or grounds for supervised recreational activities provide a statement of compliance with the policies for the management of concussion and head injury.
  • Arizona's concussion law applies to any nonprofit group or organization that uses property or facilities owned or operated by the school district for athletic purposes.
  • New York's concussion law only limits a school district's liability if a not-for-profit youth sports program provides a statement and proof of compliance with established concussion treatment and management guidelines.
  • New Jersey has developed model policy guidelines  applicable to grades kindergarten through twelve which address the importance of both physical and cognitive rest, making academic accommodations for concussed student-athletes, and refer to the Centers for Disease Control's toolkit on managing concussions.
  • Massachusetts requires schools to report on the "total number of students who incur head injuries and suspected concussion when engaged in any extracurricular athletic activities."

Federal Law Developments

There have been attempts to address the issue of concussions in youth sports at the federal level, and congressional hearings have been held. Two hearings were held by the House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, regarding the "Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries" in late 2009 and early 2010. According to the testimony by Bennet I. Omalu, M.D., Co-Director, Brain Injury Research Institute, West Virginia University, in Part II of the hearing, "The brain cells of children who play football are more vulnerable to subconcussions and concussions. A child who plays football can be precluded from obtaining the full capacity of his cognitive and intellectual functioning as an adult."

In May of 2010 a hearing was held on the impact of concussion on high school athletes, which addressed the need to train school personnel.

More recently, in October of 2011 the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on youth sports concussions and safety equipment.

H.R. 469, the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act of 2011, has 34 cosponsors. The bill is designed to promote minimum state requirements for the prevention and treatment of concussions caused by participation in school sports. It addresses education of students, parents, and school personnel about concussions, and includes provisions regarding appropriate academic accommodations.

Potential "Damaged Goods" Argument in N.F.L. Lawsuits

A New York Times article by Ken Belson, "For N.F.L., Concussion Suits May be Test for Sport Itself," addresses the dozen plus lawsuits recently filed by former players and their wives. According to the article, the N.F.L. may argue that injuries sustained while participating in youth programs were responsible for the players' health problems:

A far murkier obstacle for the players is proving that the concussions they sustained in the N.F.L. caused their current health problems. It will be difficult to prove that any impairment is not a result of head trauma sustained while playing in high school and college.

Considering that early evidence of C.T.E. has been found in the brains of college and high school aged athletes, it is possible that brain damage resulting in denegerative diseases begins at the earliest youth levels.