Our knowledge about the dangers of sports-related concussions has come a long way in the past decade.
There was a time when the NFL celebrated the biggest hits in popular weekly videos and many held the misguided belief that athletes, from pros to pee-wees, should be expected to “play hurt” and just shake it off when they had “their bell rung.”
That thinking has not been eliminated, but the scientific evidence about how serious, even deadly, brain injuries can be has raised awareness about the risks involved with athletic competition. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are about 300,000 sports-related brain concussions in the United States each year.
New Jersey was among the first group of states to address the issue at the scholastic level, when legislators passed an interscholastic athletics program in 2010 that required special head-injury and concussion diagnosis and treatment training for high school physicians, coaches and trainers. The law outlined protocols for when a student suffered a serious head injury.
Shortly after that, the law was expanded to include cheerleaders.
Last month, New Jersey legislators wisely expanded the program beyond athletes competing against other schools to include students participating in recreational and intramural sports.
The step makes it less likely that student head injuries will go unnoticed or untreated.
Part of what we have learned about concussions is that most instances do not involve loss of consciousness. New Jersey’s parent/guardian acknowledgement form for sports participation points out that people can sustain a concussion even if they don’t hit their head — that a blow elsewhere “can transmit an ‘impulsive’ force to the brain.”
These facts show how important it is to have those who coach and supervise students involved in athletics at any level to be trained in recognizing the symptoms of a serious head injury and the steps that need to be taken immediately and in the long run.
We have learned the importance of immediately removing victims from play and not participating in further sports activity until they are evaluated by a proper health care professional and given written clearance to return.
There is a significant danger, even more so with younger people, of reinjuring a brain still symptomatic from a previous concussion. That can result in Second Impact Syndrome, which can involve brain swelling, increased pressure inside the cranium, coma and even death.
The information is frightening. So are stories about young athletes whose lives are ruined after playing through multiple concussions. And so are the latest stories about 96 percent of deceased NFL players whose autopsied brains showed evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with concussions.
The many benefits to students of sports and recreation activities should not be forgotten. But expanding New Jersey’s scholastic concussion protections is a step that demonstrates the state’s dedication to making sure those benefits come with as few risks as possible.