Bill targets prevention of sports head injuries

? No one would hit a soccer ball with a laptop computer.

“You would be appalled and furious that such a fine, delicate instrument would be used in such a misused fashion,” said Dr. Bart Grelinger, a neurologist from Wichita.

But Grelinger adds, “We think nothing of seeing a star soccer player jump up and deflect a ball with their head towards the goal.”

His argument is that the human brain is more complicated, more delicate and less reparable than a laptop computer.

Physicians and sports trainers are pushing for legislation aimed at protecting young athletes from head injuries during sports.

Senate Bill 33 would require that an athlete who appears to have suffered a concussion be removed from practice or a game. It also would require clearance from a health care provider before the youth could participate again, and provides education on head injuries to youngsters, parents and coaches.

Grelinger said concussions represent nearly 9 percent of all high school athletic injuries.

“We are getting leaner, meaner, faster and have more agility, and that means head injuries,” he said.

And because concussions are invisible — unlike a broken arm or twisted ankle — sometimes children are sent back “in harm’s way” before they should go, he said.

“Putting athletes at risk before their brains are ready to control the next trauma, should injury reoccur, is careless, and once understood, unconscionable,” he said.

The Lawrence school district policy is to follow Kansas State High School Activities Association guidelines, which require any athlete who exhibits behavior consistent with a concussion, such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems, to be immediately removed from play. The student can only be returned to play with written clearance from a health care professional, and it cannot be on the same day.

Recent studies that have focused on professional football players, have shown that former NFL players have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory ailments 19 times more than the normal rate for men.

David Carr, who is director of the athletic training education program at Kansas University, said the Kansas bill should ensure that whoever OKs a student’s return should be trained and up to date on the management and treatment of concussions.

“Our knowledge on concussion is advancing every day,” he said.

Several members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee wondered if Senate Bill 33 was an overreach by government, while another said the measure didn’t go far enough.

Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, who is a physician, had a problem with the bill allowing a licensed health care provider to provide approval for a student to resume sports. Reitz said that decision should probably be left up to a specialist, such as a neurologist.

But Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, said legislators often tout that schools should be locally controlled.

“This appears to possibly be another step in micromanaging how the school districts run their operations,” he said.

Grelinger said the legislation represented “a great start” but needed more work.

He said the proposal, which currently covers school sports, needs to be expanded to cover sports outside of school, such as soccer clubs.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt submitted written testimony in support of the legislation.

“Given our experience at the professional level, we believe a similar approach is appropriate and necessary when dealing with concussions in youth sports,” Goodell said.

“While concussions occur in football, they are also prevalent in many youth sports including soccer, hockey and basketball — whether played by boys or girls,” said Hunt, chairman and chief executive officer of the Chiefs. “This legislation will help parents, teachers, coaches and the youth athletes themselves recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions and respond appropriately.”