Student Well-Being

Colorado Passes Most Sweeping Youth-Concussion Law in U.S.

By Bryan Toporek — April 01, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Colorado’s governor signed the nation’s most sweeping youth-concussion law

this week, requiring coaches to bench players as young as 11 when they’re suspected of having a concussion. (See my previous coverage of the bill here.)

The new law, known as either SB 40 or the Jake Snakenberg Act, also requires annual concussion-recognition training for volunteer Little League and Pop Warner coaches, along with coaches in public and private schools. The concussion training will be made available to all coaches online for free.

This is where the Colorado law begins to differentiate itself from other states’ youth-concussion measures. Most states only limit their concussion rules to school sports, but Colorado also includes all volunteer coaches for youth athletic activities.

That’s not all: When a student-athlete is removed from a game because of a suspected concussion, the coach must contact the student’s parents and cannot permit the student to return to any supervised team activities involving physical exertion until receiving clearance from a doctor. Once a doctor clears a student-athlete to return to competition, “a registered athletic trainer with specific knowledge of the athlete’s condition” will manage the student-athlete’s “graduated return to play.”

It’s that last part that may truly pave the way for the future of youth-concussion policies, as I alluded to in a previous post about new concussion legislation in New York state. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association recommended a five-day weaning period to return concussed athletes back to competition after they’ve received a doctor’s clearance, yet the proposed New York legislation does not include this condition.

Snakenberg, the namesake of the Colorado law, was a freshman football player who died in 2004 from second-impact syndrome, which can occur when someone sustains a second concussion before fully healing from the first. While requiring student-athletes to obtain a doctor’s clearance theoretically prevents all future risk of second-impact syndrome, gradually returning the concussed student-athletes back to the playing field after they’ve been cleared by doctors would only help keep them safer.

The new Colorado law takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.

In other concussion news: South Dakota’s governor also recently signed concussion legislation into law, although it’s nowhere near as strict as Colorado’s new law. The South Dakota law has all the basics: Concussed student-athletes can’t return to competition until receiving doctor’s clearance; student-athletes and parents must sign a “concussion information form” before participating in sports; and any coach participating in South Dakota High School Activities Association-sanctioned activities must take an annual concussion-training course online.

And Major League Baseball joined the trend of professional athletic organizations enacting stricter concussion rules, as it announced the creation of a new seven-day disabled list for concussed MLB players. (Remember, the NFL has encouraged all 50 states to pass youth-concussion legislation.)

According to the joint statement from the MLB and its players’ union, the new concussion policy includes four key components: 1) mandatory baseline neuropsychological testing for players and umpires during spring training (or when a player is added to a team); 2) protocols for evaluating players and umpires suspected of a concussion, especially during high-risk scenarios such as a player being hit in the head with a pitch; 3) the new seven-day disabled list being created; and 4) protocols for clearing players and umpires before having them return to competition.

Under the new rules, each team must now designate a “mild traumatic brain injury” specialist in its home city, and must submit a “return to play” form to Dr. Gary Green, the MLB’s medical director, regardless of whether the player in question was placed on the DL.

How does this affect school-aged baseball players? Well, it doesn’t—yet. But the MLB established a new concussion-treatment precedent with these rules, which schools can now point back to when developing their own policies.

As Dr. Robert Cantu of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy once told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NCAA and high schools will likely follow the lead of professional sports organizations, especially in terms of player safety.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.