Codey-Vitale Comprehensive Concussion Safety Bill Receives Final Legislative Approval

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 Assembly today, receiving final legislative approval.

“Through this legislation, we will hopefully be able to protect our most promising student athletes from a lifetime of consequences as a result of multiple concussions,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “With the proper safety precautions in place, interscholastic youth sports can be incredibly rewarding for our kids, teaching them the values of teamwork and discipline and encouraging an active lifestyle. But we have to make sure that, above all else, we put our student-athletes health and well-being first, and take proper precautions at the first sign of a concussion.”

“The latest medical studies on the cumulative effects of repeated concussions and brain trauma should raise a red flag about our students’ safety,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We cannot and should not ignore this data when the long-term health of our best and brightest is on the line. This bill creates common-sense precautions to ensure that our State’s student-athletes don’t put themselves at risk by playing with a concussion.”

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.

“Our kids’ safety has to be the number one concern when it comes to student athletics,” said Senator Codey, who coaches a travelling basketball team in West Orange. “We owe it to them to be aware of the warning signs of concussions, and take proactive steps to make sure they don’t injure themselves further. This bill creates a comprehensive approach to prevent players from complicating their injuries.”

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 the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association (NJSIAA) and 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.

“Every day, we’re learning more and more about the effects of brain and head trauma on athletes – particularly young athletes, who are still developing,” said Senator Vitale, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Athletic trainers should have the latest and most complete information in order to provide the best treatment possible when one of their athletes suffers a concussion. This bill creates a mechanism to make sure that athletic trainers have the latest medical data and best practices to protect New Jersey’s kids.”

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.

“While we’re finally seeing more attention being paid to the medical consequences from repeated concussions, we need to do more to prevent them in the first place,” said Senator Vitale. “This bill is a significant step forward to protect kids from exacerbating their injuries, but we need a serious dialogue about making student athletics safer moving forward. It’s not enough to have a plan in place for when a student gets injured if we’re not doing everything we can to prevent the injury before it happens.”

“As someone who’s been active in coaching kids, I can tell you that there isn’t a single sport which is one hundred percent safe, one hundred percent of the time,” said Senator Codey. “Injuries will always be a part of athletics, despite all that we do to prevent those injuries from happening. But when it comes to the safety and health of our student athletes, we have to do a much better job protecting them from the long-term, potentially fatal effects of repeat and multiple concussions.

“This bill represents a first step in the right direction, and I urge the Governor to sign it into law quickly, so we can begin to protect at-risk kids from making their injuries worse,” added Senator Codey.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate last week, and now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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