Post-con­cus­sion re­turn shouldn’t be up to par­ents

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour nar­ USA TO­DAY Sports

There are times Mom and Dad re­ally don’t know what’s best. Like, say, when it’s safe for their child to re­turn to play af­ter a con­cus­sion.

For­tu­nately, North Carolina law­mak­ers ap­pear to have re­al­ized that. With furor build­ing over pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would have al­lowed par­ents to make de­ci­sions for which they are not equipped and that could jeop­ar­dize their chil­dren’s lives, one of the co-spon­sors told USA TO­DAY Sports on Tues­day that the bill would soon be amended.

“That’s go­ing to be changed,” promised state Rep. Greg Mur­phy, who is also a physi­cian. “It’s not nec­es­sary, be­cause I don’t be­lieve par­ents are med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and they are not quali-

fied to make such de­ci­sions.

“I’m not sure why that was in­cluded, but it’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be re­moved.”

Given some of the shenani­gans in North Carolina pol­i­tics lately, it’s worth keep­ing an eye on leg­is­la­tors un­til the nec­es­sary ed­its are ac­tu­ally made to House Bill 116. Be­cause par­ents, no mat­ter how well-mean­ing, do not have the ex­per­tise to make de­ci­sions of this mag­ni­tude.

There is much we don’t know about repet­i­tive head trauma and the long-term dam­age it can cause, par­tic­u­larly with young ath­letes. There is no set re­cov­ery time, ei­ther, with sever­ity of the in­jury, phys­i­ol­ogy and per­sonal his­tory all play­ing roles.

But one thing re­searchers do know is that re­turn­ing to play too soon can leave a child vul­ner­a­ble to ad­di­tional in­jury, even death. And while most par­ents would never do any­thing to pur­posely put their chil­dren at risk, we’ve all seen those moms and dads with an un­healthy in­vest­ment or in­ter­est in their kids’ ath­letic ca­reers.

Giv­ing them the power to rush their sons or daugh­ters back on the field when a young body or brain is still heal­ing is not only sense­less, it’s reck­less.

“Par­ents are very com­pet­i­tive in many venues of com­pet­i­tive sports. Some­times those de­ci­sions are made — and I’ve seen them made pre­vi­ously,” said Ja­son Mi­ha­lik, co-di­rec­tor of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Re­lated Trau­matic Brain In­jury Re­search Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of North Carolina.

“At the end of the day, ev­ery­one should be a part of (dis­cus­sions about) a stu­dent-ath­lete’s health and safety, and that in­cludes par- ents,” Mi­ha­lik added. “But cer­tain de­ci­sions that need to be made can im­pact the life of a stu­den­tath­lete, and those de­ci­sions are best left to li­censed med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als.”

The sur­pris­ing part of all this is that North Carolina has one of the most com­pre­hen­sive re­turnto-play laws in the coun­try, one that has been held up as a model for other states.

Named for two high school foot­ball play­ers who died af­ter suf­fer­ing head trauma on the field, the Gfeller-Waller Con­cus­sion Aware­ness Act pro­hibits kids from re­turn­ing to play without the writ­ten clear­ance of a physi­cian, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, ath­let­ics trainer, physi­cian’s as­sis­tant or nurse prac­ti­tioner. It also re­quires schools to have for­mal emer­gency ac­tion plans in the event of se­ri­ous in­juries or med­i­cal con­di­tions.

“I strongly feel par­ents should be in­volved in med­i­cal de­ci­sions in­volv­ing their child,” Mi­ha­lik said. “To do the sce­nario where a par­ent is ex­clu­sively able to (clear a child), without even seek­ing health care for the child, is some­thing I per­son­ally can’t sup­port.”

The up­roar over mak­ing par­ents con­cus­sion ex­perts has also de­tracted from the other, laud­able as­pects of HB 116. In ad­di­tion to con­cus­sions, the Stu­dent Safety in Ath­let­ics bill would re­quire all coaches to be trained in CPR and pro­hibit kids who suf­fered heat­stroke or heat ex­haus­tion from re­turn­ing to play without med­i­cal clear­ance.

It also would re­quire par­ents to ac­knowl­edge be­fore each sea­son that they had been given ed­u­ca­tional in­for­ma­tion on sud­den car­diac ar­rest, heat ill­nesses and head trauma.

But per­haps most im­por­tant, HB 116 would cre­ate a statewide data­base of all cat­a­strophic ill­nesses, in­juries and con­cus­sions suf­fered dur­ing an ath­letic ac­tiv­ity. It would be cat­a­loged by age, gen­der and sport, pro­vid­ing re­searchers with a wealth of in­for­ma­tion.

“We can’t act on data un­less we have it,” Mur­phy said.

And you can’t make de­ci­sions that will im­pact the health and safety of a child if you don’t have the train­ing and ex­per­tise.

Be­ing a par­ent re­quires mak­ing tough choices ev­ery sin­gle day. De­cid­ing whether your child’s in­jured brain has re­cov­ered enough to let him or her re­turn to the play­ing field should not be one of them.


A North Car­olina leg­is­la­tor says a bill let­ting par­ents clear con­cussed chil­dren to play will be mod­i­fied.

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