High School Sports

Parents of students with concussions won’t decide when they return to sports, lawmaker says

More than 38 million children and teens play sports in the United States each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, and concussions are taking a toll. About one in three kids playing team sports is injured seriously enough to miss practice or a game.
More than 38 million children and teens play sports in the United States each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, and concussions are taking a toll. About one in three kids playing team sports is injured seriously enough to miss practice or a game. MCT / San Jose Mercury News

A state legislator said Wednesday that there are plans to remove language in a bill that gives public school parents the power to determine whether their child is healthy enough to return to sports after suffering a concussion.

Rep. Greg Murphy, one of the sponsors of House Bill 116, said the bill was intended to raise awareness of life-threatening sports injuries by having parents, coaches and volunteers sign a concussion information sheet and keeping a database when those injuries occur.

But the bill includes language that gave parents and legal guardians equal standing as physicians and athletic trainers as to whether athletes can re-enter games or be eligible to play or practice the following day after they have been removed.

The bill lists six groups of people who can make that determination: parents/legal guardians, physicians, neuropsychologists, athletic trainers, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. All that would be needed is written clearance.

The inclusion of parents in the bill was shared widely, drew critical comments in national news media and blogs and was up for debate on ESPN’s Outside the Lines program.

State law currently requires a medical professional to determine whether a student is allowed to return.

Republican Rep. David Rogers, an attorney from Rutherford County, sponsored the bill with support from eight other representatives including Republicans and Democrats.

Rep. Greg Murphy, a Pitt County Republican who is a physician and supporter of the measure, said the language in the bill was unintentional.

“That language will be eliminated,” Murphy said. “It was just part of the process.”

Murphy said an updated version of the bill will state that only medical professionals can determine whether a child can go back into a game.

Mike Guerrero, the athletic trainer at Garner High, said when he first learned of the bill, athletic trainers around the state were confused as to where it came from. He said none agreed with the provision allowing parents’ decisions.

He said head injuries are unlike an ankle sprain, in that they have long-term effects that could be life-threatening.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, five players from across the country died from head or brain injuries from playing high school football in 2015.

“If parents are caught up in the moment, and the coach needs whatever athlete they need to run back out there, they are not thinking what are the ramifications of them doing that,” Guerrero said.

Miles Kliewer, the athletic trainer at Apex High, said he was surprised too, but glad to learn that the bill will be updated.

“That’s kind of a time bomb waiting to go off on that situation,” Kliewer said. “It would be unqualified people making a medical judgment on a person’s health.”

Both trainers said they are in favor of other parts of the bill.

HB 116 would also require parents, coaches and others involved in student athletics to have access to information on concussions, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sudden cardiac arrest. It would also require school personnel to be CPR-certified and create a database maintained by the Department of Public Instruction that would document when the injuries occur to middle and high school students.

Murphy, the state legislator, said the bill is meant to increase education and awareness of serious injuries in sports.

“I think it’s a step forward,” Murphy said. “I think it codifies really where we are as a medical body that we need to pay a great deal of attention to these injuries. There is not as much awareness in the young athletic world.

“We need to make sure everybody is aware about it and how best to prevent it in the future.”

J. Mike Blake contributed.

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