New head injury sports roles are a bargain at any cost

Monday, January 17, 2011

A bill introduced into the Nebraska legislature will create more headaches for public and private schools and youth sports organizations, but that's OK.

Whatever the inconvenience and expense, it will be a bargain compared to long term consequences of failing to prevent head injuries.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports- or recreation-related concussions and other head trauma. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, dizziness and trouble concentrating, and usually last a about a week, although it can take months to recover.

Crafted with the help of the NFL -- itself under scrutiny and taking steps to prevent head injuries -- as well as Nebraska State Athletic Trainers' Association and Brain Injury Association of Nebraska, the bill would require schools and sports organizations to provide coaches with training on how to recognize symptoms of concussion.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, was modeled on the "Zackery Lystedt Law" in Washington, named after a boy who must use a wheelchair after sustaining a catastrophic brain injury in a middle-school football game in 2006.

It would require a licensed health-care professional to evaluate an athlete and provide written clearance before the athlete is allowed to resume participation.

Athletes and their parents or guardians would also be given information each year on the symptoms and risks associated with head trauma.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia also have adopted concussion legislation governing youth concussions in recent years.

While the laws do not mandate punishment for failure to follow the guidelines, a coach might be open to a civil lawsuit if an athlete were injured after being allowed to participate too soon.

Competition brings out our best, and learning the benefits of teamwork, self-sacrifice and determination by participating in sports far outweigh the risks of physical injury. But winning a game, no matter how important, is never worth risking traumatic brain injury.

Lathrop's bill should be voted into law and signed by the governor. More importantly, coaches, parents and athletes themselves should become more aware of the risks of head injury and returning to competition too soon.

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