MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed a new bill into law this month that aims to reduce the number of concussions among state athletes and mitigate the damage that these mild head injuries can cause over the long term.
Members of the Alabama Statewide Sports Concussion Taskforce (ASCT) helped write and sponsor the legislation with the help of several state legislators and Steve Savarese, director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
The new bill passed amid rising concerns that athletes aren’t adequately protected from concussions during play. Many players also return to the game too soon after receiving a concussion, thus elevating the risk of developing more severe, lifelong symptoms.
Now, by law, all athletic organizations will be required to provide information about sports concussions to all athletes and their families. The new law also requires that coaches be trained to recognize concussions by their symptoms and immediately pull any athletes they suspect suffered a concussion out of play. Athletes who received a concussion will not be allowed to return to play without being cleared first by a doctor.
Concussions, sometimes referred to as mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI), occur when a blow or jolt to the head or body causes the brain to jerk rapidly, sometimes knocking against the skull’s interior. Once a concussion occurs, normal brain function changes. Confusion, dizziness, mood swings, ringing in ears, headache, nausea, fatigue, and memory loss are all commonly reported symptoms of concussion. As many as 3.8 million sports and recreation concussions occur annually in the U.S.
Youth athletes may be especially vulnerable to the effects of concussion, and often suffer from memory loss, attention problems, and other cognitive difficulties. Concussions occur most often in competitive contact sports, with football accounting for more than 60 percent of concussions in youth sports.
Although concussion patients bounce back from their injuries relatively quickly, multiple concussions can have serious consequences over time, often leading to severe cognitive and emotional problems and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that high school athletes who sustain one concussion are three times more likely than their peers to sustain a second concussion.
ASCT said that the law’s passage was just one step in curbing concussions. The next step involves educating professionals, the public, schools, and athletic organizations about the law to make sure they understand and comply with it.