Northam signs student athlete concussion bill

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Governor Ralph Northam has signed legislation designed to improve concussion safety measures for student athletes. House Bill 1930 passed the General Assembly with unanimous support.

The measure, introduced by Delegate Richard Bell (D-Staunton), requires the Board of Education to regularly update its concussion policy guidelines. The guidelines include criteria for removing and returning an athlete to play after a suspected concussion.

“As a state senator, I introduced and passed legislation directing the Board of Education to develop these guidelines and requiring local school divisions to create policies for identifying and handling suspected concussions,” said Northam. “Delegate Bell’s legislation will strengthen this practice by requiring the Board’s guidelines and divisions’ procedures to be updated biennially, which will help account for new research and enhanced knowledge.”

“Concussions can be a serious medical concern and should not be taken lightly,” said Bell. “It is critical that we keep our guidelines up to date to ensure that we protect the health and wellbeing of our student athletes and that is what HB 1930 aims to do.”

Studies confirm risk

Recent studies confirm the risks posed by seemingly minor head injuries.

At least five percent of young football players — aged 5-14 — are suffering concussions each year, more than had previously been estimated, according to a 2018 study by Seattle Children’s Research Institute and UW Medicine’s Sports Health and Safety Institute.

That and other studies add to growing concerns about the safety of football for young players.

“Measuring the incidence of concussion in grade-school and middle-school football players is essential to improving the safety of the game,” said Dr. Sara Chrisman, an investigator in the research institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development and lead author on the Seattle study. “It’s hard to determine the impact of prevention efforts if we don’t know how often these injuries occur at baseline.”

While mild concussions may not present many symptoms right away, researchers fear that they may cause serious problems later in life, according to an Rx411 report.

Over the past decade, researchers have found that an alarming number of retired soldiers and college and professional football players show signs of a newly identified disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), believed to cause mood disorders, cognitive decline and eventually motor impairment as a patient ages.

These findings have raised concern over whether repeated hits to the head can cause brain damage in youth or high school players, and whether it is possible to detect these changes at an early age.

“There is a lot of emerging evidence that just playing impact sports actually changes the brain, and you can see these changes at the molecular level in the accumulations of different pathogenic proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia,” Prof. Chunlei Liu of UC-Berkeley said in a news release. “We wanted to know when this actually happens — how early does this occur?”

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Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.