Concussion Laws

March 11, 2013

There are 43 states with concussion laws on the books. Four states (West Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas) have legislation pending. Many of them have similiar components, but none are exactly the same because no two states are the same.

Parents, coaches, school administrators, athletic administrators, athletic trainers, and physicians should all be familiar with the concussion laws that are in place in their state. The laws provide guidance for how, when, and by whom a student-athlete exhibiting concussion symptoms may resume participation. Some states require schools to have a protocol in place, while others simply require education of coaches and clearance by a qualified health care professional.

These laws could, and some argue should, go much further. The laws should be in place for all youth sports and require education by any coach of a youth athlete. The law should require a physician clear the athlete. There should also be a mandate that school districts have protocol in place for middle and high schools, in addition to youth leagues. Penalties would ensure that schools actually follow the law, but only if there is a way to report if the law is not followed. In addition, athletic trainers should be able to use their discretion if a physician clears an athlete and there are indications that concussion still exists.

I have heard it suggested that there should be support and advocacy for athletes with head injuries. The education surrounding concussions has improved, but continues to be insufficient. Parents are not getting the information that they need in order to fully understand. Coaches get around the education requirement by having one coach take the test and put in the name of each coach. Coaches are not interested, but the responsibility is on them by the state.

Which brings me to, why are the states putting the responsibility on coaches? Is it because they know that the coaches are qualified? Clearly not or else they would not require education every year. Is it because coaches make the best decisions? Certainly not! Is it because every school has a coaching staff, but not every school has medical staff in place? Precisely!!!

Coaches need to have the responsibility to know not to put an athlete back in the game, but they don’t have the ability, interest, or understanding to evaluate and determine if a concussion is present. Athletic trainers have this abililty and understanding and should be in place in every school to make sure that students are safe. It was reported that more concussions are diagnosed in schools with athletic trainers. Why? Because athletic trainers have the ability to evaluate and diagnose this injury. Those schools that do not have athletic trainers are not diagnosing all of these injuries and are returning them back to the field earlier. This is dangerous for their future health.

Everyone should be familiar with their concussion law. You can make a difference by talking with your elected officials about athlete safety laws and how they affect our children.


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