Legislature Acts to Protect Student Athletes by Addressing Dangers of Untreated Concussions

June 17, 2011

Up until fairly recently, an athlete who suffered a blow to the head during an athletic game, event or practice may have gotten up, dusted his-or-herself off and returned to action as quickly as possible without giving a second thought as to whether or not he or she sustained a concussion. For a very long time, the long-term effects of a concussion were not fully understood. This is now changing.

With the help of professional athletes and sports organizations, such as the NFL, which has funded medical research on the effects of repeat concussions, results have shown that athletes who have suffered from concussions may experience long-term ailments, such as memory disorders, an increased likelihood of early onset dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a progressive degenerative disease.

In an effort to protect today’s rising stars, the New York State Legislature last week gave final passage to the Concussion Management and Awareness Act, which establishes statewide safeguards to protect student athletes from brain injuries while participating in interscholastic sports or physical education classes. The Act (A.8194/S.3953-B) will require the State Education Department (SED), in conjunction with the Department of Health (DOH) to establish head-injury guidelines for schools across the state. School coaches, physical education teachers, nurses and athletic trainers will also be required to undergo head-injury training to learn how to identify the symptoms of a concussion and to seek medical treatment for an injured student.

When a child or teenager suffers a concussion, the true extent of the harm may be unknown. Therefore, a student athlete who has or may have a concussion will be removed from the game immediately and will not be allowed to return to the field, court or rink, until after a 24-hour period has passed where the child has been symptom-free. A physician must also give permission for the child to return to sports. In addition, this measure requires SED and DOH to post information on their websites about the warning signs of a concussion, plus the conditions that would allow a student diagnosed with a concussion to resume participation in school athletics.

Reports have shown that concussions are misunderstood at times, because the athlete may start to feel better, and in turn believe that as soon as this happens, he or she should be allowed to return to the game. This makes it difficult to manage recovery with competitive athletes, parents and coaches, because, in reality, an athlete with a concussion must have a period of rest after becoming asymptomatic and return slowly to physical activity.

This legislation will help to protect young athletes from further harm by ensuring that they get immediate medical attention to avoid additional injury.