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Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury Risk for California Student-Athletes

Awareness of concussions and their potentially debilitating long-term effects has increased rapidly in recent years, but nowhere more so than in the National Football League. Reports of veteran pro football players dealing with dementia and sometimes committing suicide have prompted the National Football League to make major improvements in how a concussion – a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) – is diagnosed and treated. Teams have implemented stringent protocols in assessing the effects of a concussion before the players are allowed to resume playing.

But adults aren’t the only ones playing football. It’s a popular sport for participants of all ages, including teens in the San Jose area. Concussions to players at the high school level have fallen under increased scrutiny as traumatic brain injuries have become better understood. In California, the state has implemented laws in recent years aimed at protecting student-athletes from injury.

California Law Regarding Concussions for Student-Athletes

Education Week has compiled a comprehensive list of concussion laws in California and other states. In California, a 2011 law regarding student-athlete concussions requires that:

  • Parents sign a concussion information form
  • A student-athlete must be removed from play if a concussion is suspected
  • A student-athlete must receive medical clearance before returning to play

The state does not require formal training on concussions for coaches.

Encouraging Student-Athletes to Report Concussion Symptoms

Football is not the only sport in which a student-athlete can receive a concussion or related traumatic brain injury. Players of a number of contact sports are at risk of a concussion, including basketball, soccer and lacrosse. However, concussions are most prevalent in football, with 6 to 8 percent of high school players sustaining a concussion at some point.

Diagnosing and treating concussions faces one obstacle with student athletes. Athletes may not self-report symptoms, because they don’t want to be pulled from the game or let down their team. That’s one reason why educating student-athletes on the importance of self-reporting and encouraging them to do so is so critical. If another concussion occurs soon after the first, a student-athlete can take considerably longer to recover.

Knowing One’s Rights Regarding Student-Athlete Injuries

In a perfect world, every school would put the safety and health of its student-athletes ahead of all other considerations. While that’s often the case, injuries to young people are sometimes not taken as seriously as they should be. Given the seriousness of concussions and TBI in general, it’s critical for student-athletes and their family members to have a full understanding of what schools and students need to do to ensure that athletes are safe.

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