County lawmakers hear testimony on proposed youth sports concussion law

Youth sports coaches and managers in Erie County may soon be required to take a brief course on concussion awareness and safety. A proposal is on the table in the Erie County Legislature and, Thursday morning, lawmakers heard testimony from people who have front-line knowledge of concussion safety.

 

While a wealth of information has emerged in recent years about the long-term effects of concussions, especially in cases when the victim is not allowed the adequate time to fully recover, there remain concerns about whether the adults who lead youth sports organizations are properly trained to recognize the symptoms.

University at Buffalo Concussion Clinic Director Dr. John Leddy, at center, speaks during a public hearing in Erie County Legislature chambers. At left is Matthew Fisher, the father of a teenager who suffered a serious concussion during an organized youth football game.
CREDIT MICHAEL MROZIAK, WBFO

proposed local law would require those directly involved in youth sports in coaching or organizer positions to attend a course once every two years, at no cost to those individuals. Sports organizations that are unable to provide documentation that their coaches and managers are up to date with training would be subject to fines.

The Erie County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee hosted a public hearing on the proposal Thursday morning and heard testimony from two individuals who have firsthand knowledge of youth sports concussions.

“Educating people about identifying concussions, that’s the most important thing at the youth sport level,” said Dr. John Leddy, director of the University at Buffalo’s Concussion Clinic. “You cannot prevent all concussions in sports, especially in collision sports, but what you can do is hope to ensure that concussions are identified as much as possible in kids.”

The proposal has bipartisan sponsorship from Legislators Patrick Burke and Joseph Lorigo. This version of the legislation is revised from earlier versions and gained Lorigo’s support once concerns about cost of the course were addressed. Youth sports organizers would not have to pay, and one of the possibilities raised during the hearing was that the University at Buffalo may provide a cost-free venue for the sessions.

Lorigo also spoke of a concern raised by fellow Legislator John Mills about liability. He was concerned that coaches or leagues may be sued by a parent if they miss a concussion, even after completing training.

“We do live in a litigious society, I’m an attorney by profession, and unfortunately that’s part of what we have to deal with,” Lorigo said. “But there’s insurance for that, as you heard on the floor today.

“It isn’t something we should really be worried about, when we’re talking about protecting children.”

Co-sponsor Burke expressed a need to address the notion that one can shake off a hard hit and stay in the game. It’s a culture he believes that still poses a challenge in contact sports.

“I’ve seen my 9-year-old son get knocked around pretty good and he still tries to get up and be a tough guy,” Burke said. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think we’re stepping the right direction. And I think the more we educate parents, the more we will ensure that their children are safe.”

 

Mroziak, Michael. “County Lawmakers Hear Testimony on Proposed Youth Sports Concussion Law.” WBFO. WBFO, 19 May 2016. Web. 07 June 2016.


Six Concussion Suits Are Filed Against Colleges and N.C.A.A.

Penn State and the Big Ten were among the named defendants in class-action lawsuits that former players filed Tuesday over the handling of head injuries. CreditGene J. Puskar/Associated Press 

Several former college football players filed class-action lawsuits Tuesday against their universities, conferences and the N.C.A.A., claiming negligence over their handling of head injuries. The spate of cases — six were filed Tuesday — marks a new effort by athletes seeking financial relief for what they say are the lasting effects from concussions sustained in their college careers. Among the named defendants in the filings are Penn State and Vanderbilt and three major football-playing conferences: the Big Ten, the Southeastern Conference and the Pacific-12.

Earlier this year, a federal judge proposed a settlement in a class-action concussion lawsuit against the N.C.A.A. on behalf of all college athletes. The settlement approved by the judge included new safety protocols but no payments to any former players struggling with cognitive brain function. In contrast, when the N.F.L. was sued by a group of retired players, the league reached an agreement that included hundreds of millions of dollars for payments to help those with any of several neurological diseases.

Photo

Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference were also among the named defendants. According to the filings, the players now have a variety of health problems, including mood swings, depression and sleeplessness.CreditMark Humphrey/Associated Press 

The lawsuits filed by former college players Tuesday pertain only to football players and are separate from the original class action against the N.C.A.A. They were filed in various federal court districts around the country.

Auburn, Georgia, Oregon and Utah are the other universities targeted, though only their conferences are named defendants, along with the N.C.A.A., because of liability complications at some public institutions. The plaintiffs had careers that spanned the decades before the N.C.A.A. began requiring its members to have concussion protocols in 2010; in one case, the player competed in the 1970s. According to the filings, the players sustained concussions in college and now have a variety of health problems, including mood swings, depression and sleeplessness.

“The judge didn’t approve the original settlement because these players need financial help,” said Jay Edelson, the lead lawyer in the cases. He added that more lawsuits against more colleges and conferences were planned.

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The suits face hurdles. Hosea Harvey, a law professor at Temple, said he was skeptical of the litigation’s moving forward because proving negligence against the N.F.L. was easier than it may prove to be against colleges. He noted that the terms in the proposed N.C.A.A. settlement, which also includes $70 million for medical screenings for former college athletes, were more appropriate than seeking money from the N.C.A.A., universities or conferences.

“Absent extraordinary evidence of negligence at the time of the injury, I don’t see how the schools are culpable,” he said. “The goal should be to mitigate the harm and make things safer for players moving forward. That’s a public-health victory even if it’s not a financial one.”

The N.C.A.A. was first sued over concussions in 2011. After a number of similar cases were brought, they were consolidated. In 2014, the N.C.A.A. and the plaintiffs’ lawyers announced that they had reached a settlement. Judge John Z. Lee of United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved most of the terms, but declined to give the N.C.A.A. full immunity from future class-action lawsuits. His proposal specifically allowed athletes from one university to still sue as a class. The N.C.A.A. has yet to sign off on the new terms, but now faces another round of concussion litigation.

Mr. Edelson said that each case sought its own jury trial to award damages to players and that the colleges, the conferences and the N.C.A.A. could all be liable. He declined to speculate on a potential financial payout if the former players win.

Strauss, Ben. “Six Concussion Suits Are Filed Against Colleges and N.C.A.A.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 May 2016. Web. 20 May 2016.

Judge approves settlement in NCAA concussion case with conditions

A federal judge granted preliminary approval Tuesday to an amended settlement between the NCAA and a group of college athletes who sued how the association handled concussions.

U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee’s approval came with one significant change that in part has delayed resolving the case. The athletes could still sue their university and the NCAA as a class under certain terms, meaning the NCAA and schools don’t have the blanket immunity moving forward they sought.

The settlement would release all class-wide claims relating to concussions, subconcussive hits or contact. Current and former college athletes could still sue for personal injuries and “class claims that do not relate in any way to medical monitoring or medical treatment of concussions or sub-concussive hits or contact.”

Both parties must still agree to amendments in the settlement. First submitted in July 2014, the agreement would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former athletes for brain trauma and put aside $5 million for research. In addition, NCAA guidelines for medical care by universities would change moving forward.

“While we are pleased the court has provided a preliminary pathway to provide significant resources for the medical monitoring of student-athletes who may suffer concussions, we are still examining the conditions placed on preliminary approval,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement.

Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney who intervened in the case, said he loves the decision and will start filing lawsuits against schools within the next couple weeks.

“We think there’s nothing stopping them now,” Edelson said. “It’s going to be the large schools that have had systematic issues. It’s not going to be a surprise who they are when we first start filing.”

Edelson’s interpretation of the ammended settlement is that class-action suits can be filed on a school-by-school basis — not a national class-action — and as long as they don’t involve medical monitoring.

“The medical monitoring was always the tail that wags the dog,” Edelson said. “That’s just about people getting a test to see if they can get a concussion. People who were badly injured know they have concussions. The key thing is this is not a done deal. (The plaintiffs’ attorney) Steve Berman will be happy going forward with this deal. The key question is whether the NCAA still wants to go forward. That’s not clear. They really want the class release. What the NCAA ends up instead of facing one big suit is they face dozens of moderate-size suits, which doesn’t sound like the biggest win for them.”

Berman said he has “no issues” with the judge’s new terms. “Hopefully we will get this before the judge in mid-February,” he said.

When asked how susceptible he thinks the settlement would make individual universities to class-action claims, Berman responded, “I don’t see a big risk. There just aren’t scores of concussed kids that would make up a class at each school.”

The litigation was originally filed in 2011 by former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington, who sustained several head injuries in college and argued the NCAA neglected concussions. Additional cases became consolidated with Arrington, who later opposed the settlement because individual athletes aren’t getting paid medical costs.

The settlement would create a 50-year medical monitoring program at $70 million to cover diagnostic medical expenses for athletes, not their actual treatment. The NFL’s settlement with players over concussions is for approximately $900 million and includes millions of dollars going to players who suffer from neurological diseases.

Back in 2010, the NCAA began requiring every school to have a concussion-management plan. Documents released in the Arrington case in 2013 showed the NCAA essentially had no oversight over these concussion management plans.

In a 53-page opinion, Lee wrote that he could not rule that the NCAA’s alleged conduct injured college athletes in “the same, unvarying” way as conclusions reached in the NFL case.

“Rather, the facts produced in discovery present a multitude of potential permutations regarding whether the NCAA breached a duty to protect its athletes and caused any particular plaintiff injury,” Lee wrote. “And the need to make individual, fact intensive determinations as to liability with respect to each class member eclipses any common issues as to whether the NCAA had a duty to protect players from concussion-related risks, breached that duty, and fraudulently concealed those risks.”

Lee outlined six changes the NCAA agreed to implement regarding concussion policies (some of which are already in place):

• Require all athletes to undergo preseason baseline testing for each sport prior to their first practice or competition.

• Revise the NCAA guidelines so an athlete diagnosed with a concussion will be prohibited from returning to play on the same day and must be cleared by a physician before coming back.

• Require medical personnel who are trained in concussions to attend all contact-sport games and practices for Divisions I, II and III. Contact sports are defined as football, lacrosse, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, soccer and basketball.

• Have the NCAA institute “a uniform process for schools to report diagnosed concussions and their resolution, and for concerned persons to report potential problems directly to the NCAA.”

• Require NCAA schools to provide approved concussion education and training to athletes, coaches and athletic trainers before each season.

• Have the NCAA provide education for faculty to accommodate students suffering from concussions.

Lee had previously said he needed to understand “the range of actions” the NCAA may take against a member for either intentionally or inadvertently failing to comply with settlement terms, and any sort of enforcement mechanism. NCAA members have wrestled with whether to adopt rules attached to concussion guidelines.

In Tuesday’s opinion, Lee wrote that the settlement “now encourages the schools to implement the concussion management protocols, by requiring that the schools provide written certification of compliance in order to be included as Released Parties under the agreement.”

Previously, Lee was concerned about how few locations would be available for medical monitoring tests. The number of locations has expanded to 33 across the country, with an assumption that 50 percent of class members would live within 50 miles of a location and 70 percent would be within 100 miles. Athletes who live more than 100 miles away could get reimbursed to travel to the closest location or request access to a closer medical provider.

The settlement requires a publicity campaign 10 years into the 50-year monitoring program. Lee recommends publicity campaigns every 10 years to ensure class members are aware of the testing.

Four former college athletes — Derek Owens, Angelica Palacios, Kyle Solomon and Arrington — are set to receive $5,000 each as named plaintiffs since they were deposed in the case. Additional plaintiffs who were not deposed will each get $2,500.

The NCAA agreed that it will not oppose plaintiffs’ request for an award of attorneys’ fees of up $15 million and out-of-pocket expenses up to $750,000. Attorney fees and costs must still be approved by Lee. A status hearing for the case is set for Thursday in Chicago.

Follow and read more from Jon Solomon on Facebook and Twitter.

The concussion issue is not going away in football -- college or pro. (USATSI)
The concussion issue is not going away in football — college or pro. (USATSI)
Solomon, Jon. “Judge Approves Settlement in NCAA Concussion Case with Conditions.” CBSSports.com. CBS Sports, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

School said son suffered a concussion; parents sued to get him back on field

When Shawn Nieto felt the hit, he clutched the football tight, making sure not to lose his grip, even as his 16-year-old body fell limply to the ground.

When Erica Nieto saw the hit, she sprinted from her seat in the stands, down near the sideline and screamed for her son’s attention.

When the trainers at Cleveland High in Rio Rancho saw the hit, they ran onto the field to make sure their junior running back was okay.

This much, everyone agrees on. What happened in the seconds, minutes and days that followed the state semifinal playoff game ultimately led both sides to a courtroom. School officials say Shawn was knocked unconscious for 20 to 30 seconds. He suffered a concussion, they said, which meant under state law, he was forced to sit out seven days to recover — which meant he’d miss the following week’s state championship game.

But Shawn says he never lost consciousness, and his family insists he didn’t suffer a concussion. So they hired a lawyer and filed a motion in court last month, pleading with a judge to let Shawn play in the title game.

The case highlighted much of the confusion surrounding concussions, particularly as it concerns children and teenaged football players. In recent years, youth leagues across the country have changed the way they teach football. States have passed laws to ensure high schools monitor player safety better. And the NFL has tweaked its rules and aired public-service announcements to educate a football-crazed nation about head injuries.

Yet, there still remains uncertainty and inconsistency about head injuries in young athletes. Participation numbers continue to drop in many areas, and according to a Harris Poll last year, one in three parents lives in fear that their child will get a concussion and one in four prohibits their kids from playing contact sports because of concussion concerns. The same poll found 87 percent of adults can’t correctly define a concussion, and 37 percent say they’re confused about what a concussion is.

Parents have to sort through conflicting information. Doctors such as Bennet Omalu, the subject of the movie Concussion who is credited with identifying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, and Robert Cantu, who co-authored the book Concussions and Our Kids, have said children shouldn’t play tackle football until the age of 14. Many other concussion experts say the science doesn’t yet support such a drastic conclusion.

And while football families try to sort out the facts, science and the proper precautions, the Nieto family is among those who say concussion hysteria has made the sport’s decision-makers overcautious at times.

“That’s the bogey-man blanket they’re throwing in sports now,” said Peter Nieto, Shawn’s father.

By barring Shawn from competing, the family said the school district violated his constitutional right to due process, his state constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities and interfered with his educational opportunities.

School district officials in Rio Rancho, meanwhile, say they were just following the law and protecting the young player’s health and well-being.

When a state judge heard the case last month and was presented with the evidence in an Albuquerque courtroom, he felt he had no choice: Shawn Nieto, who may or may not have suffered a concussion one week earlier, was granted a temporary injunction and allowed to play in the state title game.

Shawn began playing youth football at age 7. His father competed in the sport, and his siblings were athletes too. His older sister even wrestled for the school team.

“As a mom, of course you’re concerned about how dangerous this is,” his mother, Erica, said this month in the first interview the family has done, “but I’ve always been an active parent when it comes to this stuff, attending practices, games, events to ensure if there is an injury, I’m there and able to seek medical attention as needed.”

Peter has coached wrestling and junior high football and said he’s gone through specific training related to concussions. “I’m not a professional by any means,” he said, “but I do know what people are concerned with.”

Standing just 5 feet 5 and 140 pounds, Shawn took over his team’s starting running back position midway through the season and went on to run for 931 yards and 18 touchdowns. His Cleveland Storm team, a preseason favorite to win state, posted an undefeated record.

The Nietos said the school never gave any training related to concussions, but they were given an informational sheet and required to sign a form.

The team breezed through the season, and despite his size, Shawn emerged as a key contributor. In the team’s playoff semifinal game, Shawn says he remembers everything. The Storm led and were charging down the field. Coaches called for an option play, and Shawn took the ball and began to make a cut. He saw an open field.

“I thought I was going to score,” he said.

But Shawn was yanked down by a horse-collar tackle and before he hit the ground, another player crashed into him, their helmets colliding.

Shawn lay still on the ground. Trainers hovered over him. They say he was unconscious. Shawn says the wind was knocked out of him and he was merely catching his breath.

He eventually rose to his feet and when he reached the sideline, he gave his mother a thumbs up.

Team trainers administered a memorization test, and he correctly recalled two of the three words he was told to remember. He said he was distracted watching the game and missed one. He was given a balance test, too, and says he passed.

After the game, Shawn told his parents he felt fine. He didn’t have a headache and didn’t ask for medicine. He rode a bus three hours back to school, and coaches then allowed him to drive home alone from there.

“If it was that serious, I’d hope they’d notify the parents that there’s some major concern,” Erica said.

Shawn said he was told the next day at school that he was in the concussion protocol and would be unable to play in the state championship game.

Peter drove straight to the school when he heard the news. He talked to coaches, the athletics director and the school’s athletic trainer. The trainer explained Shawn was unresponsive and had been knocked unconscious. The parents say they were never given any paperwork to support the school’s assessment and they never observed any symptoms that Shawn had suffered a head injury in the game.

“We’re not rookies,” Peter said. “We know what a concussion is.”

While concussions and the degenerative disease CTE have made headlines and been linked to football greats such as Junior Seau and Frank Gifford, researchers are still trying to understand the risks football might pose to young people.

“The younger we go, the less science there is,” said Harry Kerasidis, a neurologist who authored the recent book Concussionology: Redefining Sports Concussion Management For All Levels, “and we have kind of extrapolated from studies that were done on older individuals.”

Kerasidis explained that there are two schools of thought: (1) a child’s brain is still developing and any trauma can be especially harmful; (2) children are smaller, slower and perhaps unable to deliver as much force in their collisions as older players. While recent research has found CTE widespread in a former player who was 25 years old at the time of his death, researchers are working to understand definitively the long-term effects of head trauma suffered by young players.

“We really don’t yet have the level of science that we need,” said Gerard Gioia, who heads the division of pediatric neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and directs the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education Program. “We don’t know what the difference is between a 7-year-old brain taking a blow or hit versus a 13-year-old versus a 17-year-old. We really need those studies to be done.”

Nieto’s family was eager to learn Shawn’s condition and made a doctor’s appointment for the following day. Shawn met with a doctor and exhibited normal cognitive ability, orientation, memory recall and concentration, according to the family’s court filing.

Backed by the doctor’s recommendation, the Nietos became even more determined for him to play in the state title game and explored their legal options.

“If something looks bad, it doesn’t mean it’s really that bad, you know,” Peter said. “This just happened at an emotional milestone in our son’s life, so we were going to do whatever we thought we could to get his voice heard, to not lose this opportunity.”

The school district, meanwhile, was just as adamant that Shawn had been injured and state law required he sit out seven days.

“There’s no wiggle room,” said Bruce Carver, the school district’s athletics director. “If somebody thinks it is [a concussion], we go the safe road and keep him out.”

All 50 states, and the District, have passed laws that address concussion safety in youth sports, but the particulars vary. A concussion might be diagnosed differently in South Carolina than Colorado, and the required recovery might be different in California than Pennsylvania. Arkansas allots money for a program but has no standards in place. Wyoming doesn’t require parents to sign a consent form. Only a handful, such as New Mexico, have a mandatory waiting period before a player can return to action.

While New Mexico’s statute was hailed as one of the toughest when it was signed into law in 2010, opinions vary about whether a mandatory waiting period is effective. A 2009 study looked at 635 high school- and college-aged concussed football players and found that the waiting period “did not intrinsically influence clinical recovery or reduce the risk of a repeat concussion in the same sports season.”

“This concussion law is just one size fits all,” Erica said of New Mexico’s statute. “It’s expected to fit every situation, and it really does not allow for how to address a conflict — how do you get an independent evaluation? There’s no wiggle room at all, and I think there needs to be.”

State district Judge Alan Malott scheduled a hearing for Dec. 4, barely 24 hours before the championship game was scheduled to kick off. Neither the school nor the school district showed up in court, and Malott had at his disposal one key piece of evidence: Shawn’s doctor clearing him to play. Malott granted the injunction.

“The fact that the doctor said he was fine and never was hurt was obviously pretty substantial evidence,” Malott said in a phone interview. “The school didn’t even show up, so I didn’t have the benefit of a coaches’ report or anything like that.”

The morning of the title game, though, Karen Ortiz, the physician who examined Shawn, sent a letter to the school district, rescinding her opinion and saying the family was not forthcoming with the extent of Shawn’s injury.

“Had I understood that there was a loss of consciousness, I would have never provided medical clearance,” Ortiz wrote in a letter first published in the Albuquerque Journal.

A spokesperson for Ortiz’s employer, Lovelace Health System, said the doctor could not comment on the case, citing privacy concerns. Neither the Nieto family nor the judge say they have ever seen the letter.

The Cleveland Storm took the field that night, and Shawn was in uniform alongside his teammates. But he’d missed the entire week of practice and coaches didn’t use him in the game. Shawn’s lone appearance was for a brief fourth-quarter kickoff. His Storm team posted a 48-35 win to capture the title and cap a 13-0 season. Shawn’s replacement ran for 200 yards and scored a touchdown.

Shawn said watching his teammates win the state championship without him was bittersweet. Many students at his school didn’t understand why his parents took to the courts, and the school hallways this winter have not always been pleasant. His wrestling season has since started, though, and he hopes to regain his starting running back job next fall as a senior.

The Nietos remain upset with the letter of the law and the school’s application of it. They’re still confident Shawn never suffered a concussion. School officials overreacted, they say, and Shawn suffered because of it. They plan to write a letter to the local school board suggesting ways the rules could be improved.

Carver, the school district’s athletics director, said the school and team officials “could’ve done a better job communicating,” but they still support the spirit of the law.

“We feel like we did what’s best for the kid and trying to protect him,” he said.

Maise, Rick. “School Said Son Suffered a Concussion; Parents Sued to Get Him Back on Field.” The Santa Fe New Mexican. Sante Fe New Mexican, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.


Concussion awareness in youth sports dictated by state law

By JENNIFER EDWARDS

A Tuscumbia child can play 13 years of organized tackle football before leaving high school.

The city’s recreational tackle football program has teams for children as young as 5, and from there children move through middle school and high school football programs, the force of play escalating as children age and grow.

That’s the worry of concussion awareness advocates concerned about the long-term effects of head injuries in youth football.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who first published research findings about chronic traumatic encephalopathy in football, wrote in a guest column published in the New York Times that children should not be allowed to play “high-impact contact sports” such as football during pivotal years of brain development.

Omalu’s research is being profiled in the movie “Concussion” due out Christmas Day. The movie and his writing have invigorated a national debate about the safety of such sports, and who gets to determine when children should begin participation.

Muscle Shoals and Florence start tackle football leagues for children at 7 years old. In soccer, another sport that has recently addressed sport-induced concussions in the youth ranks, leagues start at age 4.

In Alabama, the concussion protocol is dictated by a state law passed in 2011 called the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Bill. It requires recreational coaches and assistant coaches to have annual training about concussion symptoms and treatment, and leagues develop an information sheet for athletes and parents to understand the same.

Players suspected of having a concussion during a game or practice must be removed from play immediately. That player can’t return to play that day, and must have a physician’s release letter to return to the team if it is determined the player does have a concussion.

“It does not matter if this is your best player or not. That child’s future is what is important,” said Tammy Holt, athletic director for Tuscumbia Park and Recreation Department.

Concussion symptoms include headache and pressure in the head, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, attention or memory problems, and blurry vision.

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced in November recommendations for affiliated leagues that are meant to reduce the possibility of concussions in soccer. The recommendations include disallowing heading the ball for players younger than 10 years old, and only allowing the skill in practice for children between 11 and 13.

The state-mandated concussion requirements for youth sports apply to all sports. The law also requires school systems to have a concussion awareness program in place to recognize possible head injuries outside of organized sports.

Rusty Wheeles, park and recreation director in Muscle Shoals, said he is not aware of any concussions suffered during games or practices in the leagues he administers.

Wheeles said the tackle football league expanded two seasons ago to provide football teams for 7- and 8-year-old children. Previously, tackle football began at age 9 in Muscle Shoals.

“We are a recreation program for the people of the community, and the people wanted it,” Wheeles said. “We had a lot of people wanting it, and families started sending their kids to Sheffield and Tuscumbia to play. We’ve had about 60 kids sign up (for the youngest age group).”

Todd Nix, community services director for Florence, said the Florence Parks and Recreation Department often will encourage athletes and parents to play in the city’s flag football league in the first years of learning the sport, and move into full-contact football at an older age.

He said the flag football league teaches the fundamentals of the game without the contact seen in the traditional version.

“Our tackle football registrations have gone up, but flag football (registration) has gone up faster,” Nix said. “We are really more interested in kids getting out and moving than we are having them play a particular sport. We do push flag football, and we tell people tackle football and football in general is a sport they can learn when they are a little older.”

Source: Edwards, Jennifer. “Concussion Awareness in Youth Sports Dictated by State Law.” TimesDaily. N.p., 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.


Lawsuit alleges PIAA failed to protect students from concussions

By JASON CATO

Many of Pennsylvania’s 350,000 junior and senior high school athletes likely have experienced severe concussions and the kind of lingering effects three Lawrence County high school athletes had to endure, according to a class-action lawsuit claiming negligence against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Two former student athletes at Neshannock High School and the father of a senior at Ellwood City sued the PIAA in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court late Thursday alleging the governing body did little to protect them from or help them with concussions suffered while playing high school sports.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages on behalf of Jonathan Hites and Kaela Zingaro, both New Castle residents and 2014 Neshannock graduates, and Domenic Teolis, 17, of Ellwood City.

The head of the state’s governing body over school sports vowed to fight the allegations vigorously, and one legal expert said the PIAA will prevail.

“This lawsuit will lose,” said Hosea Harvey, a Temple University law school professor with expertise in youth sports law. “They are actually undermining the issue of student safety in Pennsylvania.”

Neither Hites nor Zingaro nor their families could be reached for comment. Samuel Teolis, listed as a plaintiff because his son is a minor, declined to comment.

Attorneys for a Texas-based law firm that specializes in class-action lawsuits and which is heading up the litigation against the PIAA did not respond to numerous messages from the Tribune-Review.

Bob Lombardi, the PIAA’s executive director since 1988, said he was blindsided by the lawsuit in light of the measures the organization has implemented in recent years regarding player safety and concussions.

“This blows my mind,” Lombardi said. “All of our schools try to take care of the health of our athletes. I think we have been very responsive in asking our member schools to follow protocols.”

RULES IN PLACE

Since 2009, all 50 states passed laws regarding concussions in youth athletes. Pennsylvania in 2012 enacted its Youth in Sports Safety Act, which outlines responsibilities of schools and coaches.

“We have to have a player removed and evaluated by someone who is trained in the management, care and treatment of concussions. That’s the extent of the law,” said Larry Cooper, head athletic trainer at Penn-Trafford High School and chairman of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee.

Many schools go beyond that requirement, implementing preseason baseline assessments for concussions and installing more stringent concussion protocols with the help of brain injury specialists.

“The PIAA was in the forefront, not lagging behind, to try to get something in place as a student safety initiative,” Cooper said. “You have to applaud them for doing that.”

The lawsuit, which alleges negligence before and after Pennsylvania passed its law, describes in detail concussion injuries suffered by the plaintiffs and the failure of coaches and others to recognize and deal with symptoms. No schools or coaches are named in the lawsuit.

Hites suffered a severe concussion in 2011 as a freshman attending a team football camp at Slippery Rock University. It took him more than a year to be medically cleared, but he still experiences learning and social difficulties, the lawsuit states.

Zingaro suffered a concussion in June 2014 while playing in a Neshannock High softball game. Doctors cleared her to return to play two months later, although her attorneys said she continued to experience headaches and trouble with concentration.

Domenic Teolis, now a senior at Ellwood City’s Lincoln High School, suffered multiple concussions in his freshman year during football practices and games, the lawsuit states.

After suffering a concussion in practice in October 2012, Teolis played the next day against Central Valley, his lawyers said. He reported concussive symptoms to a trainer and coaches, but nothing was done until his parents took him to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that night, the lawsuit states.

CLAIMS AGAINST PIAA

The lawsuit claims the PIAA violated state law by not:

• requiring concussion baseline tests;

• tracking and reporting concussions;

• requiring qualified medical personnel be present at all PIAA-sanctioned practices and events;

• removing athletes with apparent concussions from practices and games;

• taking measures to educate school personnel on how to provide proper medical response to suspected concussions; and

• providing resources for student-athletes in seeking professional medical care at the time of a concussion, during treatment or for post-injury monitoring.

“None of these are required under Pennsylvania law,” said Harvey, the Temple professor. “They just aren’t.”

In addition to paying for its alleged negligence, the lawsuit wants a court to order the PIAA to establish a medical monitoring trust fund to pay for ongoing and long-term expenses of student athletes and former student athletes.

PREVIOUS CASE DISMISSED

Lawyers filed a similar suit last year against the Illinois High School Association, making it the first prep sports governing body in the country to face a class-action concussion lawsuit.

A judge in October dismissed the case, saying the IHSA had worked to improve protections for student athletes and that imposing broader liability on the governing body could reduce participation in high school football or end the sport altogether.

Harvey said the lawsuit filed in Lawrence County “cuts and pastes” whole sections of the failed litigation filed in Illinois.

Instead of frivolously suing the PIAA, the plaintiffs should address their concerns to state lawmakers in an effort to improve Pennsylvania law, the professor said.

“The allegations of what happened are not frivolous, and the solutions aren’t frivolous,” Harvey said. “But these are best addressed through the Legislature.”

Source: Cato, Jason. “Lawsuit Alleges PIAA Failed to Protect Students from Concussions.” TribLIVE.com. N.p., 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.


U.S. Soccer Federation Settles Youth Concussion Lawsuit

By PETER TORNCELLO

The United States Soccer Federation released new guidelines banning the practice of heading a soccer ball by children under the age of 10. The new guidelines also prohibit children between the ages of 11 and 13 from heading soccer balls in practice, but permit it in games.

The guidelines are part of a resolution reached in the Mehr class action concussion lawsuit that began in August of 2014. The case involved a group of parents and players who filed a class action suit in a United States District Court in California charging FIFA, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence in handling head injuries of its participants. A judge ruled earlier that the claims against FIFA had no standing, but that the case against U.S. Soccer could continue.

The class action suit sought only rules changes, not financial damages.

The new U.S. Soccer guidelines were announced in a joint press release with the plaintiffs, and bring the litigation to a close.

The issue of head injuries in youth sports has taken on an increased urgency in recent years with the high-profile lawsuits brought against the National Football League (NFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL). A report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of The National Academies concluded that youth sports, such as field hockey, wrestling, women’s lacrosse and soccer, provide as much, if not more, danger of concussion as football and ice hockey.

In addition, a 2012 study reported by the Head Case Co. determined that while soccer has fewer concussions per year than football, the severity of concussions is significantly higher.

As part of the settlement, the U.S. Soccer Federation also agreed to modify substitution rules in games to allow players who may have suffered a concussion to be evaluated without penalty. The guidelines also call for more education for players, parents, coaches and referees, and for more uniform practices for handling youth concussions. While the U.S. Soccer Federation guidelines will be mandatory for their youth teams and academies, they represent only recommendations for other youth soccer programs and leagues across the country.

Steve Berman, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “This is a tremendous victory that will affect millions of young soccer players across the country.” He added, “We believe this decision sends a strong message to coaches and lays down paramount regulations to finally bring safety management to soccer.”

While this matter has been resolved for the U.S. Soccer Federation, the hot-button topic of head injuries in youth sports will likely continue to generate intense debate and no shortage of litigation.

Source: Torncello, Peter. “U.S. Soccer Federation Settles Youth Concussion Lawsuit.” The National Law Review. N.p., 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

 


Working Together to Prevent Injuries in Youth Sports

victoria2We’ve all been there: getting hit or knocked down during a game and saying “I’m fine!” instead of taking a seat on the bench and determining whether or not we are really injured. No player wants to let the team down or feel weak for admitting that he or she is hurt and in need of a break, but this mentality can actually hurt a player even more down the line. According to safekids.org, a youth sports injury that results in a visit to the emergency room occurs once every 25 seconds. This adds up to about 3,397 children in the hospital every single day. Safe to say, youth sports injuries are not uncommon and need to be taken seriously. That number would be even higher if more players were willing to admit their pain and take the necessary steps to find out how to heal it, but this would at least prevent further damage or repeated injuries of the same kind from happening. 54 percent of athletes said they have played injured, and 42 percent of athletes have admitted to “hiding or down-playing an injury during a game so they could keep playing”, according to safekids.org. This practice of hiding injuries needs to be curbed so that children stop repeatedly playing on an injury, and putting themselves in even more danger.

At the beginning of the season, players need to be told by the coach to come forward and be honest if they are feeling less than okay and ground rules should be set to agree on how the team will approach injuries. It also becomes the parents’ responsibility to report to the coaches in the event that their child has admitted to feeling pain, or has been diagnosed by a doctor and given specific instructions about how to treat an injury. Similarly, the coach needs to be open with the parent and inform them that their child has been injured during a practice or a game so that the parent can take the necessary steps to keep their child healthy and safe. Considering that 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices, according to youthsportssafetyalliance.org, it is clear that many injuries occur when the parent is not around to witness them, making communication necessary.

bundleWhile the responsibility does lie on the player, we cannot always trust that children will take an injury as seriously as they should or that they will be open with both their coach and parent and admit to one. According to safekids.org, less than half of coaches are certified and know how to prevent and recognize sports injuries, while 53 percent have said they’ve felt “pressure from a parent or player to put an athlete back in the game” after an injury. To make the playing field a safer place, coaches need to be certified or, at the very least, aware of the health issues of their players, just as parents need to focus on their children’s health rather than their goal count.

What all of this comes down to is communication. The gaps between players and parents, players and coaches, and parents and coaches leave room for more harm. A player who tells his parents that his ankle hurt during the last practice and gets a note from the doctor that he should skip gym class should not be playing in their soccer game the next day. The player might not want to tell their coach about this for fear of being benched, but the parent should recognize the importance of resting for their child’s safety and keep the coach informed. Similarly, if a player was complaining of dizziness during practice and had to sit out, the coach should report this to the parent so that they can go to a doctor or keep an eye out for their child. If a coach or a parent doesn’t know there is something wrong with the child, then they have no way of fixing the problem. Where communication stops is where injuries can go from bad to worse. The more aware that parents and coaches are about a player’s injuries, the more help and support they can give. When players, parents, and coaches work together, athletes are kept safer and the team becomes stronger as a whole.

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Illinois Senator Introducing Concussion Legislation

It only takes one bad hit to get a concussion.

Dr. Gerard Gioia, a pediatrician with Chiildren’s National Healthcare System, said, “It moves that soft tissue inside the head.”

Several teens are getting concussions from contact sports, but aren’t being treated quickly enough.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, is working to make sure schools take these injuries more seriously.

Senator Durbin said, “If you’re taken off the field to play because you’re suspected of having a concussion. Sit them down.
They’re not going return for this game.”

According to a new study, not taking a teen out of a game could be harmful. The study followed kids who sustained one head injury versus kids with two injuries within a 24 hour time frame. The kids with two injuries had a much longer period of recovery.

The NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and NCAA all back Durbin’s bill, which, according to Durbin, shows times have changed since he was a kid.

He said, “I was playing football with some of the junkiest equipment in the world not thinking twice.”

But he does acknowledge that even with such advancements, there is still a risk.

Senator Durbin said, “I’d think twice about a son or grandson who wanted to play football.”

Under his legislation, students with a suspected concussion would be required to sit out for the day, parents would have to be notified and the student would need a doctor’s note before returning to play.

Schools would have five years to implement this policy. If they don’t, they would lose federal funding.

Durbin said this is an incentive to make sure schools continue to do the right thing.

Source: “Illinois Senator Introducing Concussion Legislation.” WOWT RSS. N.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 22 May 2015.


Concussion law needs some delicate footwork

By KEN DIXON

HARTFORD — The Capitol is the place where good ideas can mate with well-meaning attempts to make life better. But their bastard offspring can be unintended consequences.

Bad law often means more business for Connecticut trial lawyers, which is lucrative for the suits, but it can underscore the lack of legislative foresight.

Take the pending law on concussions that would require youth coaches to give out information on the sports-related affliction that’s getting a deserved amount of national awareness these days, now that a cavalcade of former National Football League players are checking in with early-onset dementia and the cash-flush league has finally agreed to create a billion-dollar care fund for their once-proud warriors.

Connecticut lawmakers of goodwill, including Sen. Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden and Rep.Diana Urban of North Stonington, co-chairman of the Committee on Committee, want to push this, in the next step to help alert young kids, 7 to 19, to the dangers of bashing their heads in local pay-to-play rec leagues.

It’s a logical extension of efforts made in recent years to make sure high school and college kids recover before returning to play after they’ve had their brains rattled.

The bill passed unanimously in the Appropriations Committee last week, after Casey Cochranof Monroe, the former starting quarterback at UConn, participated in a news conference supporting the bill. Cochran, a star at Masuk High School, last year decided to quit playing when the number of concussions he had endured, finally matched his uniform No. 12.

“I probably blacked out for a little bit on the field,” Cochran said of one of the more-memorable hits he took, of which he has little recollection today. “I hit the ground and then immediately I was pretty confused. I got up and my vision was blurry. I had trouble talking with one of my other players coming off the field. And then, immediately after, trouble sleeping. For me, the shortest-lasting thing was those headaches for about a month. Afterwards it’s everything from anxiety to depression that affected me over my years and they last for a long time. Every concussion I had was a little bit different and every one I think the symptoms lasted a little bit longer. It needs to be out there that football brings concussions. It’s part of the game. It’s a game that I love and it’s a game that I want to be around for the rest of my life. But people just need to understand that it’s just part of the game.”

And yeah, playing hurt is part of the game.

“I have gone out on the field after a concussion,” he said. “And it’s tough because I’ve had great coaches in the youth ranks, high school and college; people who don’t want you to play when you’re hurt, who don’t ever praise that. But it comes down to the players. It’s their decision. You can hide a concussion from a coach. You can’t hide a broken leg, usually, but concussions are something you can hide. And I think a lot of players do hide that.”

Cochran, 21, is an intern for NBC Connecticut, helps his father coach quarterbacks on the weekend and will start his master’s degree in sports management at UConn. He’ll soon collect a communications degree. He called the pending legislation a “common-sense” bill.

“We are not stopping anyone from playing athletics,” Bartolomeo said in the news conference. “We are not requiring anyone to be a medical professional. All we’re saying is the information is out there. Make sure that parents and athletes and coaches are aware of it. Protect our children. That’s all we’re asking.”

What makes the bill more complicated, however, is the world of liability law. What if a volunteer rec league official, stuffing envelopes full of registration materials, fails to include the concussion-alert literature from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? What if a 15-year-old referee lets a couple kids who just banged heads together, stand up from the grass and resume their soccer game?

I called Rep. John Shaban, R-Redding, a former semi-pro guard who is a lawyer and president of the Aspetuck Wild Cats, an American Youth Football affiliate for third-to-eighth graders.

The mantra for coaches and kids is “awareness, recognition and recovery,” he said. He said the Wild Cats promote pre-season screening and in-season vigilance.

“I’ve had concussions and maybe played through things I shouldn’t have,” Shaban recalled. But times change and the Wild Cats have stressed concussion awareness for a long time. “When you’re comparing youth leagues to pro football, it’s like putting a swing set next to a jet fighter. Soccer and cheerleading have more concussions, but biking, by far, results in more. Statistically, football is drastically safer than riding a bike, by an order of magnitude.”

And kids heal if they take the necessary time to recover.

As a lawyer, Shaban looks at the sad hypothetical of a kid getting hurt. “I don’t want to create a liability issue for good-faith coaches and youth programs and that can happen if you create a quasi-standard of care,” he said. “Fewer lawsuits are good for everybody.”

Less work for the trial lawyers is good, too.

Source: Dixon, Ken. “Concussion Law Needs Some Delicate Footwork.” Connecticut Post. N.p., 01 May 2015. Web. 01 May 2015.