Head Injuries: Protecting Players in Youth Sports
by Andrew L. Shapiro
A recent study by the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention revealed this: Coaches who underwent training by USA Football’s Heads-Up Football program are better equipped to prevent player injuries.
In fact, youths playing for these trained coaches were 34 percent less likely to sustain concussions during practice and 29 percent less likely during a game. Researchers studied players on 100 teams playing in 10 leagues in several states. Though the youth football study did not factor in the types of helmets worn, independent physicians confirmed whether or not the players sustained concussions.
A more controversial study of 42 retired National Football League players by Boston University found that participants who began playing football before age 12 performed significantly worse in tests measuring verbal IQ, reasoning/planning, and memory loss. (Critics claim the sample size was too small – and that those tested played youth football from the 1960s through the 1980s when rules for safety and equipment were less strict.)
That being said, there’s been a lot of talk recently about the effects of injuries, particularly head trauma, in both youth and professional sports. Mostly the discussion centers on football – but soccer, skiing, and other activities can prove equally dangerous when kids aren’t supervised well, and when they lack the proper safety equipment.
According to USA Today, emergency rooms most commonly treat young athletes for strains and sprains, followed by bone fractures, and then contusions. Concussions are fourth on the list of common sports injuries for kids, but they can be the most damaging in the long run.
What’s being done to minimize the risk of sports injuries for our kids?
Youth Sports: Tackling Safety in California Laws
An existing California law covering all scholastic sports is already on the books. Education Code §49475 mandates that student athletes suspected of having a head injury will immediately be removed from athletic activities for the remainder of the day, and not be permitted to return until cleared by a licensed health provider. Students who do have concussions must complete seven day or longer graduated, return-to-play protocols.
Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2127 last July, which amended §49475 and added Education Code §35179.5. The new regulations limit high school and middle school football teams to two, 90 minute, full-contact practices per week, to be held only during the pre-season and regular seasons. The new law specifically prohibits full contact football practice during the off-season.
When Helmets and Sports Laws Fail
The laws above regulate scholastic sports, but other athletic organizations that operate outside of the academic realm are facing serious personal injury litigation.
Here in California, the national Pop Warner league is being sued for teaching players to tackle “head first”, which technique the claimants allege have resulted in catastrophic spinal cord injury. The league had rules banning that type of tackle, but claimants allege Pop Warner failed to ensure the coaches complied with the rules. In this case, the tackler was 13 when he sustained his injury in 2011, and is now a quadriplegic.
In another suit filed in Wisconsin, a mother of a 25 year old who committed suicide alleges her son’s concussions sustained while playing Pop Warner football led to post-concussion syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Pop Warner isn’t the only organization facing litigation.
A class action lawsuit filed by parents and players against the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA, an international governing body of soccer), U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization was filed in a California district court last summer because of the way these organizations deal with concussions.
The suit does not seek financial damages. It seeks an injunction to force FIFA and the other leagues to change the way they deal with concussions. FIFA has guidelines to prevent and treat concussions, but does not have actual rules, much less any enforcement of such.
Given the rising concern over sports injuries by parents and players over the last few years, hopefully FIFA and other sports organizations will soon take heed.
Andrew L. Shapiro is the Chair of our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him by phone: (818) 907-3270, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.