In the past two three years, the majority of states have passed legislation governing youth concussions, and especially how they are managed in sports. As of April 5th, Arkansas joined that ever growing group, becoming the 44th state to adopt a youth-concussion law.
The law, signed by Gov. Mike Beebe, probably isn’t what you think however. Most states have adopted rules similar to the NFL’s model legislation, the Lystedt Law, with three basic components. Arkansas has gone a different route.
The Lystedt Law is what almost every other state’s concussion laws are based on, and it requires: parents sign a concussion-information form before their child can play; student-athletes with possible concussions must be immediately pulled from play; and student-athletes benched due to TBI must be cleared by medical professionals before stepping back onto the field.
The Arkansas law has none of that. Instead, it authorizes the state department of education to use up to $1 million from its General Improvement Fund on a pilot project on concussion management, as Bryan Toporek reported for Education Week.
Hopefully you see the issue with the focus of that law. Go ahead, look again if you need to.
For those that think that law seems logical, multiple concussions increase the risk factors for permanent brain damage almost exponentially. For every case of TBI a person suffers, especially close together, there is a much greater chance they will develop permanent conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. For children, the risk is already higher than a fully developed brain.
The most obvious solution is increased education so that the children and parents are fully aware of the increased risk of serious brain disorders associated with football. Rule changes could also go a long way to preserve the sport while protecting players.
Given that prevention isn’t always possible, and rule changes are staunchly opposed by many, moves to ensure that players are not put back in risk of a repeated brain injury or second impact syndrome are tantamount to preventing the more serious spectrum of brain injuries from occurring on the football field. Determining when a player is ready to return isn’t as easy as asking them if they feel better, either.
A slew of outside pressures, combined with the drive to succeed and make the team proud can push a player to try to start competing again before they are healed. It is also highly possible that the person with TBI may not be fully aware of their abilities and limits while healing from TBI due to cognitive deficits. This is why it is important to have players cleared by medical professionals. Coaches and even patients aren’t entirely reliable indicators of when a player is better.
Creating programs to research and develop plans is a good first step to dealing with the issue, but it does nothing for the players risking their minds right now and in the immediate future.
Oklahoma put laws into effect in 2010 to protect their youth athletes, and the majority of states have done similar. In this case, Arkansas’ attempt to get ahead of concussion with their million dollar program may actually be keeping them behind the rest of the country until their project actually changes the way players’ health is managed on the field.