Athlete Safety – Compare and Contrast

November 5, 2012

Recently in New Jersey a law was passed and signed that addresses sudden cardiac arrest. The law is named after Janet Zilinski. Janet was a cheerleader who suffered sudden cardiac arrest while running a warm up lap. It is an unfortunate tragedy when a single child loses their life when it can be prevented. Because of this New Jersey now has Janet’s Law.

Janet’s Law requires all public and nonpublic schools have an AED, which can be lifesaving if used quickly in the event of sudden cardiac arrest, and an emergency action plan that lists five individuals who are trained in CPR. The individuals can include coaches and athletic trainers. This law is an improvement on the sudden cardiac arrest law that was passed in Pennsylvania this spring which only requires education.

Education on conditions that can take a life is valuable, but not if there is no way to address the problem. I applaud New Jersey for taking the correct step in addressing this important athlete safety topic.

Sudden cardiac arrest does not get as much press as other conditions like heat illness and concussions. At this point most (and I only say most because I continue to encounter parents and coaches who scoff at the concept of not playing with concussion symptoms despite EDUCATION) understand the dangers of concussion. There are so many avenues that could be addressed legislatively for the sake of athlete safety. Some question if it is even appropriate that these laws end up on the books. After all, once they are on the books there is no way that they are going away.

There have been pushes by state athletic training associations to mandate that schools employ an athletic trainer. This would solve many of the athlete safety issues. By having a central person who oversees the well-being of student-athletes and is responsible for implementation of emergency action plans the problem should be solved. The problem comes when a state passes an unfunded mandate. The New Jersey sudden cardiac arrest law is an unfunded mandate by the way. How can the state require a school to spend money on something when revenue is low for schools?

Many argue that if a school has the money for an athletics program there is money for the services of an athletic trainer. I absolutely agree. Certainly every athlete deserves an athletic trainer.

I would like to call your attention to the difference between the two laws that I have mentioned here. New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Two states that neighbor. Two states that obviously care about athlete safety. One state passes a law that simply educates coaches, athletes, and parents on sudden cardiac arrest and the warning signs. No mandate. Just education. The other state mandates the means to save a life. Requiring AEDs and individuals able to perform CPR. Requiring an emergency action plan. Everything that a school should already have if they have athletics. Everything that a school needs to provide for the well-being of student-athletes.

Should they require an athletic trainer? I hope that it gets to the point where athletic trainers are present at schools just like schools employ nurses. After all, what is the purpose of the school nurse? To provide for the health of students. When the nurse is not present it must be the athletic trainer. Every school should have enough athletic trainers to provide the care that is needed. Until that time, we will continue to see athlete safety laws. I urge athletic trainers, parents, and anyone concerned about athlete safety to promote legislation that will actually solve the problem. Let’s save lives!


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