Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has authored legislation that would raise awareness about sports concussions and overhaul the playing guidelines for student athletes who suffer them.
SB 1521 would mandate that athletes suspected of sustaining head injuries or concussions can’t practice or play until they are cleared by a medical professional. It would also require education for schools, parents, players and coaches about concussions.
The National Football League, which last season instituted strict rules governing when players who suffer concussions can return, is urging states to enact laws that raise awareness about head injuries.
“This is something that is desperately needed in high school, elementary and grade schools,” said Rep. Ben Arredondo, D-Tempe, who signed on to Crandall’s bill as a primary sponsor.
On Monday, he addressed the Senate Education Committee before it unanimously approved the legislation. It was headed to the floor by way of the Rules Committee.
Jay Feely, a kicker for the Arizona Cardinals, said the bill would help save children from themselves and guide parents and coaches toward making the best decisions.
He recalled getting a concussion during his second year in the NFL and not telling anyone, instead shaking it off on the sidelines and continuing to play.
“As athletes, we’re judged by our skill but also by our toughness and our endurance,” he said, adding that the issue affects players of all ages. “Sometimes you have to take it out of the athletes’ hands because there’s a desire to get back on the field and be there for your teammates.”
Jeff Miller, senior vice president of government affairs for the NFL, said the league is working to change its culture about injuries and also bring awareness and education to youth athletes.
“We believe that with some advocacy and the right policy initiatives, we can protect kids and make sports even safer than they are today,” he said.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, a member of the committee, said that when her sons played Pop Warner football as teenagers coaches wanted kids to play despite injuries.
“My kid has suffered a concussion playing and fortunately, I kept him out over the protestation of the coach,” Klein said.
Dr. Javier Cardenas, a child neurologist and a member of the Sports Concussion Coalition of Arizona, said a child who returns to the field or court with a concussion is more likely to suffer a second with more severe symptoms, like brain swelling, that can be fatal.
Injuries from a first concussion can range from headaches to cognition problems to behavior problems, an issue Cardenas said he sees often in young athletes.
Jennifer Loredo, government relations consultant for the Arizona Education Association, which supports the bill, said the measure would also protect coaches when student athletes are pushing to get back in the game.
“If a student was to encounter a hard hit … we believe that coaches are already pulling them out,” she said. “This is just an extra mechanism to raise awareness so coaches are looking for what might be head trauma.”