Lawmakers Push Bill to Fund Concussion Training For School Coaches, Trainers

By David Cruz

Becton Regional High School Quarterback Karriem Royster still remembers the day clearly. He’d just gotten tackled after a broken play and hit his head on the turf. During a timeout, coaches and trainers looked him over and asked a few questions — where are you, who are you, etc. and he seemed OK, so they sent him back on the field. But after the game, on the bus — that’s when his headed started pounding, the light, piercing and the sounds around him amplified to a painful level.

“I actually couldn’t even drive home,” recalled Royster. “I had to have my friend drive me home and drop me off at my house. I took a shower and I just couldn’t do anything. My head hurt, so my mom took me to the hospital and we found out I had a concussion.”

While pro players and even college athletes benefit from the best medical staff and years of experience, high schoolers don’t get the same advantage. With the Super Bowl set for this weekend in New Jersey, Congressman Bill Pascrell and Sen. Bob Menendez want to shine some light on concussions and traumatic brain injuries among student athletes, especially in these days of tight school budgets.

“Few high schools have the necessary resources to keep their athletes as safe as possible,” said Menendez. “As a result, studies show that as many as 41 percent of high school athletes return to the field before their brain has an opportunity to heal from a previous concussion.”

The Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act (known by the acronym CONTACT) makes $5 million in grants available to states for professional development for coaches and trainers to help them create best practices for recognizing and treating victims of concussions. The hope, said the senator, is that the Centers for Disease Control will set a national standard which school districts will be able to follow.

Today, the NFL officially joined the team supporting the bill.

“It’s a broader effort that’s not just going to take the NFL, not just the help of the senator and congressman but everyone and that’s what really the main point of this particular bill which is to make sure that people understand the best practices,” said NFL Senior Vice President Adolf Birch. “I think that once you have that, a lot of other things can follow. But it’s awareness and education that starts the whole process going forward.”

The NFL is in the process of settling a negligence suit from former players who say the league ignored and in some cases covered up the long-term danger of concussions and, earlier this year, the Montclair Board of Education paid close to $3 million to settle a suit brought by the family of high school football player Ryne Dougherty, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 2009.

“We have sent our youngsters out — guys and gals — into the sports arena, scheduled and unscheduled, not properly equipped or trained many times, to play some pretty tough sports,” said Pascrell.

President Obama recently said he would not allow a son of his to play football. The lawmakers here say every parent has that choice to make but hope that their bill will add a layer of protection beyond equipment to allow young people to stay in the game and to stay healthy.