Alabama’s concussion law requires coaches to hold out of a game or practice session any youth athlete suspected of having a brain injury. The athlete can return to play only when he or she receives written consent from a licensed doctor.
The new legislation also requires sports players and their guardians to sign a fact sheet about concussions before starting practice every year. Also, before the start of practice each year, coaches must receive training to recognize traumatic brain injuries.
“Having three teenage boys who play sports, I thought it was good piece of legislation,” said Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who sponsored the bill after he heard the issue was a concern for medical officials at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. “I think it is a good way to protect our children.”
Reed said the bill also takes pressure off coaches and referees about deciding whether to keep a player in the game.
The law was written and pushed for by the Alabama Sports Concussion Task Force, which consists of 11 representatives from athletic associations, hospitals and universities throughout Alabama. The group formed in 2007 to reduce the number of traumatic brain injuries related to sports.
With the passage of the law, Joe Ackerson, chairperson of the state task force, said the group will shift its efforts toward educating the public about the legislation.
The issue of concussions in youth sports has gained national media attention within the last few years as a growing amount of research points to a sharp increase in head injuries for young athletes.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, from 1997 to 2007, the rate of emergency room visits for sports-related concussions nearly doubled for children age 8 to 13 (from 3,946 to 7,791) and tripled for those age 14 to 19 (from 7,276 to 23,239). The researchers, however, say they cannot be certain the statistics reflect a true rise in concussions or simply more reported cases due to greater public awareness of the injury.
Traumatic brain injuries like concussions can cause both long- and short-term memory or communication problems as well as anxiety or changes in personality, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Athletes who suffer repeated concussions or who are returned to a game after a head injury have an increased risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This condition resembles the symptoms of dementia, including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.