As the State Department of Education has reported, more than 5,500 Connecticut school children sustained a concussion in 2015, the first year that schools reported this information. This is a fraction of the actual concussions that occurred, since studies show that 50 to 80 percent of concussions are not reported and only 85 percent of Connecticut schools districts reported data.
Though the Centers for Disease Control maintain that concussions are a significant public health problem, Connecticut —once a pioneer in concussion legislation— struggles to implement basic safety measures. While other states laws mandate athletic trainers for contact sport events, limit contact practices, and penalize officials who fail to follow concussion protocols, it is difficult in Connecticut to implement basic policies to educate coaches, parents and athletes on concussion safety.
In 2014 The Children’s Committee introduced legislation for high school athletes that national experts called “a model for other states.” Unfortunately, this bill was stripped of many of its provisions, but it did pass with basic education measures that nearly every state already required.
In 2015, HB 6722 was introduced for youth athletes (travel/town leagues) that contained just one measure: to distribute a concussion information sheet to parents. But prior to passage, Rep. John Shaban (135th district) — a football coach and president of a youth football association—attached an immunity amendment. This provided protections for him and other adults involved in sports, but created a less safe environment for our children. The immunity provision now ensures that those governed by the law, face no repercussions for failing to follow it and have no incentive to do so.
As parents of athletes and concussion safety advocates, the biggest obstacles we face are from the very organizations that are responsible for our children’s safety. Rep. Diana Urban and The Committee on Children have passionately led efforts to bring Connecticut up to the standards that most states already provide, and are supporting HB 5141 that contains important provisions for youth sports (coach training and informed consent).
Though there are numerous benefits to sports participation, brain damage should not be viewed as an acceptable consequence of playing youth sports. We encourage passage of HB 5141 with the immunity provision removed.
Diana Coyne and Pippa Bell Ader are co-founders of the Parents Concussion Coalition.