Editorial: Protecting young athletes
Ordinarily, the last thing youíd want is state legislators sticking their fingers into high school athletics. But in the case of a bill approved by the N.C. House and under review in the Senate, it could help prevent serious brain injuries and even save lives.
The bill would promote development of an athletics concussion safety training program and standardize concussion safety requirements for interscholastic athletics. The measure follows the deaths of two N.C. students ó Matt Gfeller of Winston-Salem and Jaquan Waller of Greenville ó who suffered fatal head injuries during high school football games. While such deaths are rare, the dangers associated with concussions are getting more attention these days, as they should. Although many are aware of pro football players and boxers whoíve suffered severe long-term effects from repeated brain trauma, the danger for young athletes has been less publicized. Yet, according to some studies, youngsters may be more at risk because theyíre still developing physically, and theyíre often less aware of concussion dangers.
High school athletes sustain about 130,000 concussions each year, according to a 2008 study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Childrenís Hospital. Football accounts for the highest incidence, followed by soccer. While any brain injury is serious, experts say the harmful consequences increase exponentially when players and coaches ignore concussion symptoms such as dizziness, memory loss or headaches. The 2008 study shows why medical experts are concerned:
42 percent of student athletes who suffered a concussion returned to the game too soon after the injury.
16 percent of student athletes who suffered a concussion and lost consciousness returned to play the same day.
18 percent of Second Impact Syndrome victims are under 18. SIS arises when an injured person sustains a second concussion before healing from the first.
Preventive measures and speedy treatment reduce concussion risks. The N.C. bill is similar to those already enacted in several other states and follows protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Youth Soccer, whoíve partnered on a campaign to increase concussion awarenesss. (You can find symptom descriptions and other relevant information at www.cdc. gov/concussion.)
Staying abreast of concussion research doesnít require a new law, of course. Safety concerns should be motivation enough for players, parents and school staff. But the N.C. measure ó which has been endorsed by the NFL and the N.C. High School Athletic Association ó can help by highlighting concussion awareness and giving coaches and sports organizations clear guidelines to minimize the risks and protect young athletes.