ATLANTA - Georgia joined dozens of other states today with a law aimed at educating parents and coaches about the risks of youth concussions and placing restrictions on when a young athlete can return after suffering a serious head injury.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the "Return to Play Act" into law during a ceremony at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Scottish Rite hospital.
"Even in a mild bump or blow to the head, it can lead to a concussion," Deal said. "These can be serious, but a concussion that goes unnoticed or untreated is far more dangerous."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Pruett, passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly. It requires public and private schools to provide information to parents on concussions and establish certain policies for dealing with student head injuries. Under the law, any young athlete who exhibits signs of a concussion must be removed from play and evaluated by a health care provider. If a student athlete sustains a concussion, a health care provider must provide medical clearance before he or she can return to play.
Pruett, R-Eastman, said the bill was written in such a way to implement basic protections and give schools flexibility to build their own programs depending on how much funding they can commit. The governor said the information provided to parents will enable them to make important decisions.
"It will give them some assurance that the coaches and those that work with their children will be trained and educated as to what things to look for and to be very, very cautious about returning a child to play that very well could have suffered a concussion or some other form of a brain injury," Deal said.
Among those in attendance was Atlanta Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay, who has been part of a NFL push for youth player safety. Last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to several governors asking them to support youth concussion bills.
While the legislation requires public recreation facilities to hand out information sheets to parents, it stops short of the other requirements. The governor encouraged those recreational facilities to take the additional steps.
"By keeping the public educated and by requiring protective policies in schools throughout the state, we can better keep our youth healthy. And if recreation leagues in Georgia will follow the same guidelines we'll see even better results," Deal said.
Georgia joins 43 states with similar laws. Government estimates show hospitals treat some 173,000 traumatic brain injuries among youth that are connected to sports and recreation activities each year. Medical experts say a repeat concussion can slow recovery or increase the chances for long-term health problems that could affect learning and behavior. While rare, a repeat concussion can result in brain swelling or permanent brain damage.
Later today, Deal was expected to sign separate legislation lowering the blood alcohol level for boaters and hunters to match legal limits for drivers. The legislation also has other boating safety measures, including additional requirements for life jackets.