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Study Shows State Laws Help Reduce Concussion Risks for High School Athletes

By: Joseph Cammarata

The past decade has been one filled with new studies and information confirming the risks athletes face when they suffer concussions. Today, growing evidence has helped illustrate the profound and devastating effects of traumatic brain injuries, including one recent study in which researchers found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 99% of former NFL athletes. These studies have also helped raise awareness among parents and lawmakers who believe preventative steps are critical to helping youth athletes avoid terrible fates. Fortunately, as a new study suggests, those steps have already made a difference.

In a study published by the American Journal of Public Health last Thursday, researchers explored how new laws passed in states across the country, as well as the District of Columbia, have succeeded in reducing rates of repeated concussions among teenage and high school athletes. Many of these laws, which vary in scope and strength, were enacted within the past 10 years – including DC’s own, The Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, which I drafted.

Here are a few key details from the recent study:

  • The number of concussions among teen athletes increased immediately after each new law was passed – a point attributed to greater awareness and improved reporting guidelines.
  • After an average of 2.6 years following newly enacted laws, reported numbers of repeat concussions began to significantly decline, which indicates the positive effects of these laws.
  • Of the estimated 2.7 million reported concussions analyzed by the study between 2005 and 2016, 89% were new injuries, and 11% were recurrent concussions.
  • Football was notably the leader when it came to sports where high school athletes faced the greatest concussion risks (more than twice the concussion rate when compared to soccer).
  • Concussion rates among high school athletes were five times higher during games than during practice.

Since 2009, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted measures to protect student athletes from serious injuries that can occur when there is a blind focus on winning. Although participation in sports teaches tremendous lessons about strategy, goals, competition and team dynamics, those lessons should never come at the expense of injuries that can have devastating life-long consequences, especially among youth athletes.

As the study shows, prioritizing safety has been critical to not only reducing concussion risks, but also to changing the public’s view about the potential long-term effects of suffering a concussion. The findings in the study validate the work we have done and continue to do to advocate for and protect youth athletes and others from the harmful effects of a concussion.

How DC’s Concussion Law Shapes Up

Several years ago, I drafted the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, which became law in the District of Columbia. The Act was developed specifically to address the notable issues present in all youth sports (18 and under) and to provide a format for identification and management of injury, and education of all those participating in the sport, to include athletes, parents and coaches. This includes clear protocol and guidelines that must be followed by school-run athletic programs and non-school affiliated youth sports organizations, as well as stressing the importance of recognizing warning signs and mandated courses of action that should be taken which can summed up by the watch-phrase– “When in doubt, take them out." The Act was the broadest in the nation in that it applies not only to public and private schools but also to youth recreation leagues.

By tracking the positive results of youth concussion protection laws, there is hope that similar measures can be taken to prioritize safety at all levels of sports. Additionally, these types of studies can aid lawmakers and advocates, such as us, to continue making improvements that allow for even better prevention and response.