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Time for Connecticut To Pass Bill Protecting Young Athletes from Concussions

March 30, 2015

It seems that every day we learn more about the damage concussions can do to young athletes.  As adults, we have a responsibility to give each other the information and resources to deal with the prevention and treatment of concussions.

In 2010, Connecticut lawmakers responded to this issue by adopting An Act Concerning Student Athletes and Concussions, which addressed intramural and interscholastic public school athletics (primarily high school athletes).  The Act required coaches to complete annual training on concussions, and it required injured athletes to obtain medical clearance prior to returning to athletic activity.  A recent study of the effects of this 2010 legislation showed that the law has been effective in significantly improving the diagnosis and treatment of concussions for athletes covered by the law.

The problem remains that the law does not apply to younger athletes who play sports outside of intramural or interscholastic competition.  Connecticut now needs to act to cover those children that are not included in the 2010 legislation.  A bill currently before lawmakers – Raised H.B. No. 6722, An Act Concerning Concussions in Youth Athletics -- would expand the protections to children ages 7-18 in sports outside of school.

Under the proposed bill, beginning in 2016, anyone hosting a youth athletic activity would need to provide an annual statement regarding concussions to their athletes and their parents or guardians.  This statement would include information addressing the signs and symptoms, the means of obtaining proper medical care, the dangers of concussions and the proper protocol for returning an injured athlete back to play.  The effect of this bill would not be to create more red tape, but rather to encourage early recognition and response to childhood brain injuries in order to decrease the incidence of serious injuries.

The City of Norwalk made history recently when it unanimously approved concussion guidelines for all 6,000 youth athletes who use town property.  As it exists now, the state law only protects Norwalk’s 1,145 high school athletes.  Norwalk sports organizations and city government now have agreed to adopt broader youth sport guidelines, which increases safety for children, while simultaneously lowering liability risk for the coaches, the leagues and the city.

The State of Connecticut should take similar steps by adopting the proposed bill.

Those opposed to the H.B. 6722 have cited liability concerns as a reason to kill the bill.  Nothing in this bill should raise any serious concerns about increasing the liability of those who work with youth athletics.  With or without this bill, all Connecticut citizens, including not only coaches and referees, but also doctors, lawyers, teachers and everyone else all are expected to act reasonably under the circumstances they face.  This bill does nothing to change this.  Providing information and education will create a safer environment for children and will prevent serious injuries, which, in turn, will reduce the likelihood of any liability claims.

Others have suggested coaches and referees should be granted immunity as part of the bill.  Those who would propose immunity apparently would argue that Connecticut's legislature should create laws to protect children, while simultaneously offering blanket liability protection to those who fail to follow the law.  No other Connecticut law includes such inconsistent provisions.  The effect of including such immunity provisions, of course, would be to create a toothless bill, which would ensure that those governed by the law would have no incentive to follow it and would face no repercussions for failing to do so.

Parental concerns about safe practices in youth sports are growing. ESPN conducted a large poll last fall and found that more than 87% of parents worry about the risk of injury in youth sports, with concussion cited as the injury of most concern.  Raised H.B. No. 6722 would take an important step in addressing those concerns and protecting our children by allowing all of them the full enjoyment of sports in a safe and informed manner.

This article was written jointly by members of the Connecticut General Assembly Task Force on Youth Athletics and Concussions.  In addition to Paul Slager, other members of the Task Force include:

David Wang, M.D., MS, is an Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Dr. Wang is the head team physician for Quinnipiac University, U.S. Figure Skating national network physician and Co-Chair, State of Connecticut General Assembly Task Force on Youth Athletics and Concussions. 

Michael M. Krinsky, M.D., is the past president of the Connecticut State Medical Society and Co-Chair, State of Connecticut General Assembly Task Force on Youth Athletics and Concussions.

Diana Coyne, Pippa Bell Ader and Ann Sherwood of Westport co-founded the Parents Concussion Coalition and are advocates for concussion awareness and prevention in sports.  Ms. Coyne is also a member of the State of Connecticut General Assembly Task Force on Youth Athletics and Concussions.

Katherine Snedaker, LMSW, of Norwalk is the Executive Director and Founder of Pink Concussions and She is also a member of the Advisory Council of the National Council on Youth Sports Safety, Inc. and an Associate Member of the National Sports Concussion Coalition.

Karen Laugel, M.D., FAAP, is Chair of the Connecticut American Academy of Pediatrics Traumatic Brain Injury-Return to Learn Initiative and a board member of Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut and of the Children’s Safety Network, TBI Advisory Board. Dr. Laugel is also a member of the State of Connecticut General Assembly Task Force on Youth Athletics and Concussions.

Julie Peters is the executive director of Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut.

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