Concussions Legislature right to try to protect kids

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:45 PM

A bill that appears headed to Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk would require that youth athletes suspected of having suffered a concussion would need medical approval to return to play. It is a common-sense mandate that deserves to become law.

Senate Bill 40 requires coaches to complete an online course in concussion safety. It further says that any athletes showing signs of a concussion be taken out of competition and can only return to play if given the OK by a doctor or nurse practitioner. And it applies to all youth sports, in and out of school.

This is in recognition of a growing understanding of the severity of head injuries. As medical researchers and sports medicine professionals are increasingly aware, concussions are more serious than had previously been thought. It has also become clear that repeated head injuries are especially dangerous, and that youth are particularly vulnerable.

With that in mind, SB 40 only makes sense. Sports has a long tradition of telling athletes to “suck it up,” of playing through pain or injury. And on one level that can be character-building.

But getting back in the game with a stoved finger, a bruised thigh or a twisted ankle is one thing. Risking what could be life-changing brain injury is something else again. Damage to a young athlete’s cognitive ability cannot be walked out or taped up.

The seriousness of this was attested to by two former Broncos, Ed McCaffrey and Billy Thompson, who spoke in support of this bill at the Capitol last month. The National Football League, faced with its own problems with players’ concussions, sent an executive to support SB 40.

But a more telling point was made by one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. She said as many as 2,500 young athletes are treated for concussions in Colorado emergency rooms every year.

That is too many kids with too much on the line not to take seriously, particularly in that so little is being asked of the attendant adults. All it amounts to, in Todd’s words, is: “When in doubt, keep ‘em out.”

SB 40 passed the state Senate 28-6, with state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, wisely voting “yes.” Then last week it was cleared by a House committee unanimously.

A slightly modified version passed the House 35-27 with state Reps. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, unfortunately voting against it. The last-minute objection raised in the House was that coaches, many of them volunteers, could face liability for players injuries.

But that is just a red herring meant to invoke objections to the “nanny state.” Coaches who act responsibly — back to Todd’s “When in doubt ...” - would have no problem.

Besides, what nannies do is watch over children. And while it might be easy to forget when watching high school linebackers, this is about the safety of our kids.

The Senate should reaffirm SB 40 and Gov. Hickenlooper should sign it. No game is worth risking a life-long brain injury.