Dangers of Concussions

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New California Law Reflects National Support to Protect Young Athletes


California Limits Full-Contact Football Practice Sessions

By Doug Abrams

 On July 21, California Governor Jerry Brown signed bipartisan concussion-safety legislation limiting the number and length of full-contact football practices that high schools and middle schools may conduct beginning on January 1, 2015.  The bill also strengthens existing law concerning treatment of players who are suspected of suffering a concussion or other head injury.

Both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly approved last month’s bill, which had drawn support from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Neurology, and the California Psychological Association. Also voicing support was the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state’s governing body for interscholastic sports.

The new law (1) prohibits public, private and charter school football teams from conducting more than two full-contact practices each week during the preseason and regular season, (2) limits permitted full-contact portions of practices to no more than 90 minutes in a single day, and (3) prohibits full-contact practices during the off season. The CIF, or a league or school or other body, may adopt rules that enforce stricter standards.

The new California law also provides that where an athlete is suspected of suffering a concussion or head injury, the athlete must be removed from the game or other activity for the rest of the day, and may not resume play without evaluation, and written clearance, by a licensed health care provider. If the provider determines that the athlete has suffered the suspected concussion or head injury, the athlete must complete a graduated return-to-play protocol of no less than seven days under the provider’s supervision.

The new California legislation is a step in the right direction, the latest amendment to youth sports concussions-safety laws that all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted since 2009. The laws, similar in many key respects, are not limited to football because medical professionals warn that concussions can happen in almost any sport.

State “Laboratories”

The nationwide legislative flurry, completed in just the past five years, holds potential to help make life better for many youth athletes. Lawmakers, however, often take one step at a time, addressing aspects of a problem that seem most acute today, before weighing amendments in the light of experience. Last month’s amendment in California deserves attention from other states.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said that in our federal system, states frequently act as “laboratories” by individually confronting a common problem with similar but not identical legislation. Any state assessing its own performance and considering future amendments can learn from other states’ experiences, enacting perceived strengths and avoiding perceived weaknesses. The 50 states and the District of Columbia have each established a laboratory to experiment with remedies that enhance pediatric concussion safety.

The California legislature found that 19 other states have already banned off-season full-contact football practices. Several states have already limited full-contact practices during the preseason and regular season. The media reports that many schools follow similar concussions protocols, even without statewide legislation. Other states and schools should learn from California’s laboratory.

“As Safely As Possible”

In partisan times typically marked by red-state-blue-state divisions, getting all 50 states do almost anything in unison should draw public attention. State concussion legislation demonstrates how seriously Americans take youth sports traumatic brain injuries in football and other games.  “Sports is . . . fundamental to who we are as Americans and our culture,” President Obama told first White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussions Summit on May 29, 2014. “We’re competitive. We’re driven. And sports teach us about teamwork and hard work and what it takes to succeed not just on the field but in life.” “[S]ports are vital to this country,” he said, but the nation needs to assure that children “are able to participate as safely as possible.”

[Sources: Nat’l Conf. of State Legislatures, Traumatic Brain Injury Legislation (list and survey of statutes: Apr. 2014); Calif. Assembly Bill No. 2127, Legislative Counsel’s Digest and Bill Text]