published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Youth sports concussion bill moves in Tennessee Senate

NASHVILLE — A student that shows signs of having a concussion would be immediately removed from a sporting event and evaluated under legislation Tennessee lawmakers are proposing.

Schools and other organizations with youth athletic programs would be required to adopt concussion policies under the measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville. It unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and is headed to the Senate floor.

The legislation is similar to laws passed in 42 other states and the District of Columbia that include provisions requiring students to be removed from an event if they show concussion symptoms, such as headaches, dilated eyes or vomiting.

The Tennessee proposal in particular would require schools to adopt guidelines to educate coaches, school administrators, athletes and their parents about the symptoms and dangers of concussions and head injuries. Under the measure, injured students wouldn't be able to resume the sport until a medical professional clears their return.

Coaches and school athletic directors would also be required to complete a type of concussion safety education course developed by the state Department of Health, and that includes a "concussion signs and symptoms checklist" from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This gives us guidelines," said Tracy, a retired NCAA basketball referee who played high school football.

The bill is coming up amid increased attention to the long-term consequences of head injuries in sports.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama said in an interview on CBS during a Super Bowl pre-game show said that, if he had a son, he would have to think about whether he would let him play football.

Obama, who has two daughters, said the threat of concussions for football players means that everything possible should be done to improve their safety -- especially players from youth football leagues through college.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said later that the league is funding research to learn more about the risks and changing rules to make the game safer.

On Wednesday, NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees law and labor policy for the league, told The Associated Press before speaking to the Senate Education Committee that the league supports concussion legislation and hopes all states will eventually pass similar measures.

"We've been supporting this type of legislation for a number of years ... with the goal of trying to have a law like this in every state," he said.

A similar Tennessee proposal failed in the Legislature last year. Sponsors of the current legislation said there were concerns about who should be the authority on whether a student can resume play, but that issue seems to have been resolved.

"We've worked hard with all the groups from last year ... and they're all on board with this version of the bill," said Republican Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, who is sponsoring the companion bill.

This month, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance released recommendations aimed at protecting the nearly 8 million students participating in high school sports each year.

Among the recommendations was requiring students to have a pre-season physical exam, including testing for some of the 400,000 concussions students suffer annually.

Texas, the state with the largest number of student athletes, already is following most of the advocates' requirement. Each school district is required to have a concussion-prevention program led by at least one medical professional.

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