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Ohio passes youth sports concussion law

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 4, 2013

The Ohio Senate and House have passed a comprehensive act designed to reduce youth sports concussions.

House Bill 143, passed unanimously by the Senate the first week of December, requires a course of education in head injuries for parents, youth coaches and officials.

The new law comes in the midst of increased public awareness of the effect of concussions on athletes—for example, the suicide death of professional football player Junior Seau, which was linked to a series of head injuries that the linebacker experienced throughout his NFL career.

“There is now so much more awareness about concussions than there ever was before,” said Valerie Holbrook, MS, AT, CSCS, who is the outreach coordinator for Akron Children’s Hospital Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

“There had never been an adequate awareness,” said Holbrook. “It is a big deal to be able to educate people about why this matters.”

The process of turning medical concerns about youth sports concussions into Ohio law started in 2009, Holbrook said. That was the year that Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive youth concussion law.

The Ohio Athletic Trainers Association (www.oata.org) first worked through the Ohio High School Athletic Association (www.ohsaa.org) to implement a concussion program for athletes who participated in school-based sports throughout the state. That program was rolled out in 2010.

“We wanted to implement something sooner rather than later, because of the length of the process of making a law,” said Holbrook.

But the OHSAA concussion program had built-in limitations. It did not reach any non-school sanctioned sporting event, like summer baseball and softball travel leagues, youth football, tournament soccer and basketball, and so forth. In fact, said Holbrook, OHSAA regs only cover about 20 percent of youth athletes in the state.

The new law affects every organized youth sporting event in the state, from pee wee and rec football and cheerleading to club sports, AAU basketball and big-time travel baseball and hockey and beyond.

It is the educational component of the new law that Holbrook finds particularly satisfying. “Head injury symptoms can be very subtle,” she said. “If a coach or parent does not know what to look for, they can miss things.”

For instance, Holbrook said, there have been cases where a child suffered a sports-related head injury that led directly to troubling behavior in school. But unless people are trained to look for these kinds of subtle symptoms, they can easily miss the actual casus of this behavior.

The new law, she said, “will give the kids a chance to function in school and have a future.”

The law is designed to become a sort of roadblock to parts of the all-out competitiveness that can seriously damage a young athlete. “At what point,” asked Holbrook, “does the health of the individual finally outweigh the importance of the sports activity?”

Holbrook noted that the National Football League has been in the forefront of sports concussion awareness. “The NFL has done a good job in implementing educational programs and in assessing penalties, “for hits that could (or do) injure other players,” she said.

Sports, she said, should be about building character and developing teamwork abilities. It should not be, she said, “about hurting people.”

At the same time, there is a large group of ex-NFL players—more than 2000 of them-- and their families suing the NFL for damages because they say that the league did not adequately warn/ educated/inform them of the dangers of playing professional football.

Akron Children’s would certainly rather be involved in education about concussions than in dealing with the athletes after they suffer a concussion.

Holbrook said that the hospital has been and will continue to be a primary source of free concussion education for schools and athletic organizations. “We do education in all sports areas,” she said.

The law goes directly to both prevention of and immediate reaction to a head injury on the field of play. There will be a concussion education sheet developed that a student and parent has to sign off on before the child will be allowed to play. Any sign of a concussion, and the child will be removed from the field, and not allowed to play again until the child’s return to the sport is certified by a physician.