NFL Players & Utah Legislation Turn Up Heat on Concussions

NFL Players & Utah Legislation Turn Up Heat on Concussions

December 19, 2013
By Sarah Johnson

dreamstime_xl_9052007It’s the end of the 4th quarter, your team is down by 6 points. Its 2nd down and goal with just a few minutes on the clock. The quarter back has the ball, while the receivers are rushing into the end zone to catch a pass. A 200 pound lineman charges through the quarterback’s defenses and sacks the star player. Whiplash ensues, while the player is pummeled to the ground, head first onto the field.
This scenario is just one of a hundred that is played out on a weekly basis during football season. Kids, starting at just 8 years old, through high school, college and into the pros stand in harm’s way for the sake of the game. While technology has improved the safety equipment worn by players, it is argued that systems have long been reinforced which increase player’s chances for brain injury. That is about to change.

NFL Sees Concussion Backlash
The National Football League has already settled 4,500 lawsuits for approximately $765 million dollars for brain injuries. The NFL continues to battle additional suits from players who have suffered because of injuries sustained while playing. Legal arguments defend the long standing notion that multiple concussions increase risk of permanent brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that can cause depression and memory problems. In addition some report suffering from severe and persistent headaches, post-concussion syndrome, depression, mood swings, exclusivity, and suicidal ideations. The nearly $1 billion dollars rewarded to former players is just a small drop in the NFL’s enormous earnings of $9 billion dollars per year.

Recently BIAU and KUED sponsored a special screening of a documentary entitled, FRONTLINE’s “League of Denial: The NFL Concussion Crisis.”  Facing heavy pressure from the NFL, the program was not aired on ESPN. The evening showing at the Salt Lake Library provided Utah residents with a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes to injuries sustained in the NFL. A panel discussion followed with experts, including our own Anne Russo, PhD; along with Kevin Condra, MPA, CHES; Paul Ray, House Representative; and, Bart Thompson Assistant Director of Utah High School Activities Association.

Youth Concussion Bill Passes in the 2013 Legislative Session

Utah’s legislature passed the bill “PROTECTION OF ATHLETES WITH HEAD INJURIES.” in 2011 and modified it again in 2013. The primary purpose for this law includes prevention, education and medical accountability for those injured. Here are the four main points of the law for all amateur sporting events for kids under 18 years old in the state of Utah, including football, soccer, baseball, etc.

Parents and players are required to be notified of potential concussion risks and sign a waiver.
Sport teams are required to adopt and enforce a concussion and head injury policy.
If a player is suspected to have an injury they are required to be removed from the sporting event.
Permission by a qualified professional must be granted to return to the game.

Parents, coaches and athletes often make playing the game the highest priority. Craig Bryan, a professor at the University of Utah and brain trauma expert told the Salt Lake Tribune recently for an article titled, BYU student hopes foam impacts fight against concussions, “Oftentimes, athletes want to keep playing. They don’t want to be benched or on the sidelines, so they’re more likely to say they’re OK.”

This Utah law provides coaches, parents and players a procedure which puts the long term health and safety of players above the immediate results of one game. Ron Roskos, former BIAU Executive Director said, “Look at what we take away from kids if they are injured early on, just because a coach or a parent wants their kid to be the star of the game.”

Local Engineering Student Invents New Football Helmet

dreamstime_xl_5568535A BYU graduate student is in the final stages of testing a new football helmet that provides real-time statistical data for coaches and parents about the high level impacts on the sporting field. The new helmet contains special foam and sensors which track the impact levels received by athletes. Rather than relying on the player, or coach to identify whether or not a player should return to the field, statistics can reliably and accurately measure the impact a kid has taken.

Helmet inventor Jake Merrell explains, “ A coach will know within seconds exactly how hard their players just got hit. Even if a player pops up and acts fine, the folks on the sidelines will have data showing that may be he isn’t OK.”

The Real Touchdown

While many risks still exist for athletes on the playing field, local and national measures taken to prevent injuries including education, equipment improvements and a general focus on the wellbeing of individuals rather than the financial output of a league can all help increase healthy brain function for players of all ages.