EAST RUTHERFORD – A bill which will make New Jersey the state with the most comprehensive concussion prevention and treatment law in the country was signed into law Tuesday at a ceremony at the new Meadowlands Stadium.
“When it comes to New Jersey’s student athletes, we all have a responsibility to make sure their sport is as safe as possible,” said Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex. “This new law represents common sense solutions when dealing with head trauma, to make sure that the player doesn’t aggravate the injury by returning to the field too soon. It ensures that school officials, coaches and parents have the information they need to make the best choices for their children’s health.”
The law will take a multi-pronged approach to concussion prevention in youth sports across New Jersey.
The State Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Health and Senior Services, will be responsible for developing and implementing, by the 2011-2012 academic year, an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program to educate public and non-public school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on the warning signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries and concussions, including the symptoms associated with second-impact syndrome, a serious life-threatening condition resulting from a second concussion while a person is still healing from an initial concussion. The training will also include information about the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to sports competition or practice for a student suspected of suffering from a concussion. Training information will be updated periodically as new research is conducted on childhood brain injuries.
The law will also require the Department to create a fact sheet to provide information on sports-related concussions and other head injuries to student-athletes and their parents. School districts will be required to annually distribute the fact sheet to students participating in scholastic sports, and will be required to get a signed acknowledgement from a parent or guardian before allowing the student to participate.
The bill will require school districts and nonpublic schools to develop written policies and safety standards to prevent and treat sports-related concussions. These policies will be based on model regulations created by the Department of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association (NJSIAA) and sports-injury and head injury experts. The districts’ policies will be reviewed annually and updated as necessary. In addition, any youth sports organizations which practice or compete on school grounds will be required to comply with the policies set by the school district or nonpublic school in regards to concussion management and prevention, in order to protect the school from liability.
Under the bill, any player who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having suffered a concussion will be required to be immediately removed from sports competition or practice, and shall not return to practice or competition until he or she receives written clearance from a physician.
Finally, the bill will require licensed athletic trainers, as a condition of their biennial license renewal, to complete 24 hours of continuing education in an approved sports medicine curriculum. Under the bill, part of the continuing education requirements will have to be devoted to programs or topics related to concussions and brain injuries.
“Every day, we’re learning new information regarding head injuries,” said Vitale, who serves as vice chairman of the senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This bill makes sure that all folks involved with student athletics have the most current information and best practices to keep their players safe.”
The lawmakers added that more attention is being paid to concussions now as a result of certain high-profile cases involving retired NFL players who are suffering the cumulative effects of a lifetime of undiagnosed or untreated concussions. They noted that while concussions and brain injuries have an impact on athletes of all ages, the impact can be most serious on younger athletes, whose bodies and brains are still developing. Medical research has linked untreated concussions to a variety of health problems, including ‘punch drunk’ syndrome, memory loss, chronic headaches and dizziness, tinnitus, light sensitivity and emotional outbursts. Research has also shown that multiple concussions over the course of a lifetime can make athletes five times more susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life, and can put them at a significantly greater risk for clinical depression and other psychological disorders.
The senators added that athletic trainers, coaches, and parents have a responsibility to make sports as safe as possible for their kids, and no child should have to face serious, long-term health implications because someone missed the signs of a concussion.
“While this bill will go a long way to keeping kids at of harm’s way, we have to do a better job changing the mind-set that encourages players to play injured,” said Vitale. “A concussion is just as serious, if not more serious, than a pulled muscle or broken bone. Players have to give themselves an opportunity to heal, and this bill creates the appropriate safeguards to give them enough time to recover.”
The bill was unanimously approved by both houses of the legislature in October.
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