We call them concussions – a knock to the head that results in dizziness, blurred vision, or confusion. But doctors call them TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury. And if that term sounds much more serious, it’s with good reason: concussions are serious. Much more serious, in fact, than previously thought just a few years ago.
Brain injuries are always potentially serious. Today doctors know that concussions actually disrupt the brain’s normal functions. Concussions can affect memory, reasoning ability, the senses, communication, and even emotion – sometimes causing depression, anxiety, or aggression. For years there has been anecdotal evidence from athletes (particularly boxers) that repeated blows to the head could cause memory loss and other cognitive damage. Now it has become clear that these symptoms can affect even young athletes just starting out.
The National Football League has recently been at the forefront of the drive for increased protection for young athletes, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sending letters to governors of the 44 states that did not have laws mandating removal of young athletes from games following concussions, urging them to enact such legislation. This is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago, when Goodell testified before Congress that he knew of no link between concussions and brain damage later in life.
Perhaps due in part to the NFL’s urging, legislatures across the country have moved quickly to enact new laws protecting the young athletes of the country. Today 36 states have enacted laws that protect student athletes from concussions, typically barring the athlete from returning to competition after a suspected concussion until they’ve been examined by a doctor.
Colorado’s recently-enacted law is known as the Jake Snakenberg Act after a high school freshman football player who collapsed and died from what doctors call “Second Impact Syndrome.” This results when an individual sustains a second impact to the head before an earlier concussion is fully healed.
The Colorado law (which does not apply to college athletes) requires coaches to bench players as young as 11 if they are suspected of having had a concussion. Unlike many other states’ laws, Colorado’s law applies not just to school sports but also to volunteer leagues. Like other states, the law prevents student athletes from returning to play until they’ve been cleared by a doctor, but Colorado’s law goes further by mandating a graduated return to play, overseen by a registered trainer with specific knowledge of the player’s condition.