While brain injuries and studies associated with professional football get the majority of media attention, student athletes, especially young football and soccer players, are also at risk for similar brain injuries. Each year, as many as 300,000 young people suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), more commonly known as concussions, from playing sports.
State governments have responded to the problem of brain injuries in youth sports by adopting laws aimed at reducing the harm that comes from injuries that occur during team practices or events. Delaware was the first state to pass a regulation relating to youth TBIs in 2008, with Washington State following shortly after in 2009. In the years since, all states have passed youth TBI laws, many modeled after the Washington law, that mandate when student athletes are to be removed from the field, how parents should be notified in the event of a concussion, what training is required of athletic coaches, when a student athlete may “return-to-play,” and who may allow this return to the field. Continue reading →
The National Football League has given the National Institutes of Health $30 million for research on traumatic brain injury. There is much we don’t know about the causes, effects, prevention and treatment of sports-related brain injury – but that doesn’t mean that we should put all our eggs into the basket of biomedical research. Since Washington state pioneered its youth-sports brain injury prevention model-law in 2009, 40 states have passed laws setting out rules aimed at the problem (We’re tracking these on LawAtlas, the new PHLR policy surveillance portal). Most of these laws work by promoting identification of concussions, regulating the athlete’s return to play, and educating parents and coaches.
To put it another way, the nation, through a majority of its state legislatures, has embarked on a major initiative to reduce sports-related injuries. Tens of millions of people will be affected in some way – athletes, parents and coaches. Limited school-based resources will be consumed to comply with these laws. And, most importantly, people worried about the problem will, to some extent, rely on implementation of these laws to protect student athletes.
If this public health intervention were a drug or a new technique for changing behavior, its efficacy would be rigorously tested by government-funded research. Why should things be different because this possibly magic bullet happens to be based in the law? So far, the CDC has funded implementation case studies of youth sports concussion laws in Washington and Massachusetts. PHLR is funding a more in-depth study in Washington, with results expected next year.