A new law barring young athletes from immediately returning to play after suffering a concussion will help raise awareness of the dangers of these brain injuries, especially when ignored or improperly treated. The law, signed by Governor Bentley on June 9, could also have an enormous impact on the way sports are played.
From now on, all youth sports programs and recreational organizations must distribute information sheets detailing the symptoms and risks of concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury. Athletes and their parents or guardians must sign the sheets, acknowledging they have read and understood the material. Coaches must also receive annual training on how to recognize concussion symptoms and how to properly treat an athlete with a concussion.
The law also stipulates that any athlete who receives a concussion must immediately be removed from play and not be allowed to return until a doctor says it’s safe and gives written permission. The law applies to a spectrum of school and community athletic programs in which there is a reasonable risk of concussion, such as football and soccer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) they received while playing sports or participating in recreational activities. Concussions, a mild form of TBI, usually require about a week’s worth of rest before resuming sports and other activities.
Children generally make a full recovery from concussion except if they return to play too soon or sustain repeated concussions, in which case cognitive decline, depression, mood swings, confusion, and other symptoms can set in permanently and worsen over time.
Currently just 20 states have passed laws like Alabama’s requiring specific measures be taken to acknowledge concussion risks and to recognize and properly treat youth concussions. The Alabama High School Athletic Association may have helped pave the way for the new law when last year it issued a directive requiring high athletes abstain from play until a doctor gave them clearance to return.