Codey-Vitale Comprehensive Concussion Safety Bill Advances In Legislature

Measure Would Implement Top-to-Bottom Concussion Prevention for Student-Athletes

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Richard J. Codey and Joseph F. Vitale which would implement a comprehensive concussion prevention program for student-athletes in New Jersey was unanimously approved by the Senate today.

“We have to proceed with the utmost caution when it comes to the life-long health and safety of our State’s student-athletes,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “There’s no question that participation in student athletics is a rewarding experience which teaches the values of teamwork and discipline while encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle among our kids. However, the long-term health effects of continued brain and head trauma can transform a rewarding experience into a debilitating one.”

“Medical research has clearly shown that repeated concussions carry significant life-long health care consequences,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We cannot ignore this data when kids are at risk. It’s time to implement a comprehensive approach to prevent, treat and react to concussions in scholastic sports, so that we can spare athletes from long-term injury.”

The bill, S-2106, would take a multi-pronged approach to concussion prevention in youth sports across New Jersey.

The State Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Health and Senior Services, would be responsible for developing and implementing, by the 2011-2012 academic year, an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program to educate public and non-public school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on the warning signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries and concussions, including the symptoms associated with second-impact syndrome, a serious life-threatening condition resulting from a second concussion while a person is still healing from an initial concussion. The training would also include information about the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to sports competition or practice for a student suspected of suffering from a concussion. Training information would be updated periodically as new research is conducted on childhood brain injuries.

The bill would also require the Department to create a fact sheet to provide information on sports-related concussions and other head injuries to student-athletes and their parents. School districts would be required to annually distribute the fact sheet to students participating in scholastic sports, and would be required to get a signed acknowledgement from a parent or guardian before allowing the student to participate.

“Anyone involved in student athletics at any level has a responsibility to make sports a safe, enjoyable and educational experience for their players,” said Senator Codey, who coaches a travelling basketball team in West Orange. “That means recognizing the warning signs of concussion and protecting kids who’ve been hurt from complicating and adding to their injuries. We need to give folks the resources and training needed to know when to step in and protect their kids.”

The bill would require school districts and nonpublic schools to develop written policies and safety standards to prevent and treat sports-related concussions. These policies would be based on model regulations created by the Department of Education, in consultation with sports-injury and head injury experts. The districts’ policies would be reviewed annually and updated as necessary. In addition, any youth sports organizations which practice or compete on school grounds would be required to comply with the policies set by the school district or nonpublic school in regards to concussion management and prevention, in order to protect the school from liability.

Under the bill, any player who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having suffered a concussion would be required to be immediately removed from sports competition or practice, and shall not return to practice or competition until he or she receives written clearance from a physician.

Finally, the bill would require licensed athletic trainers, as a condition of their biennial license renewal, to complete 24 hours of continuing education in an approved sports medicine curriculum. Under the bill, part of the continuing education requirements would have to be devoted to programs or topics related to concussions and brain injuries.

“The information and best practices regarding head and brain trauma is still evolving,” said Senator Vitale, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Through this bill, we’re taking a top-to-bottom approach to keep kids safe, but we’re also putting the mechanisms in place so sports medicine professionals have the latest research on hand to effectively combat the dangers of concussions and brain injury.”

The lawmakers added that more attention is being paid to concussions now as a result of certain high-profile cases involving retired NFL players who are suffering the cumulative effects of a lifetime of undiagnosed or untreated concussions. They noted that while concussions and brain injuries have an impact on athletes of all ages, the impact can be most serious on younger athletes, whose bodies and brains are still developing. Medical research has linked untreated concussions to a variety of health problems, including ‘punch drunk’ syndrome, memory loss, chronic headaches and dizziness, tinnitus, light sensitivity and emotional outbursts. Research has also shown that multiple concussions over the course of a lifetime can make athletes five times more susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life, and can put them at a significantly greater risk for clinical depression and other psychological disorders.

The senators added that athletic trainers, coaches, and parents have a responsibility to make sports as safe as possible for their kids, and no child should have to face serious, long-term health implications because someone missed the signs of a concussion.

“We’re finally seeing greater attention paid to the dangers of repeated, ignored concussions,” said Senator Vitale. “We need to change the culture in which players are encouraged to play hurt, particularly when such actions can result in life-long medical consequences and, in the worst case scenario, coma and even death. By creating a comprehensive approach, we’re sending the message that its better for our student athletes to proceed with the utmost caution when it comes to the dangers of concussions.”

“When a kid signs up for youth or scholastic sports, the dangers of the sport are probably the furthest thing from his or her mind,” said Senator Codey. “As a coach, I recognize that no sport is one hundred percent safe, but we can definitely do a better job in ensuring our athletes’ safety when it comes to head and brain trauma. This bill won’t eliminate injury in youth sports, but it will make sure that we react appropriately when a player is injured to avoid future health complications.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for concurrence with Senate amendments, before heading to the Governor to be signed into law. It was approved last week in the Senate Education Committee.

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