Once again Michael Lewis delivered.
Affectionately known as "The Beer Man" to fans of the New Orleans Saints due to his one-time job as a beer truck deliveryman, Lewis instead delivered to the state capitol testimony in support of providing safer sports environments for Louisiana's children.
The New Orleans Saints, the National Football League and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, along with leaders from the state's medical community, continued their pursuit today of their support to endorse the Louisiana Youth Concussions Act before the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee.
Lewis, a former Pro Bowl return specialist and member of the Saints from 2001-2006 and a Saints' Ambassador, testified on behalf of the Saints' organization in front of the House of Representatives Committee. Lewis joined a coalition of medical experts, as well as leaders of the Louisiana Youth Concussion Coalition, The Brain Association of Louisiana and former Louisiana State University football player and current medical student Robert Smith on the panel.
"It's my good fortune to speak to you today," Lewis said in opening his testimony. "I had the honor of playing professional football for seven years on the NFL level and various other levels prior to that. I can speak firsthand about the advancements I have seen in the last decade in dealing with concussions and brain injuries. The players at the NFL and top college levels are blessed to have great medical treatments staffed by trainers and physicians. We know so much more now than we did even five or ten years ago about the severity of brain injuries, and this information needs to get in the hands of people that are coaching and working with the children of this state from the earliest levels through high school. It's there and we are part of the solution to help minimize the exposure to the dangers of head trauma, not just in football, but in all sports, ranging from softball and cheerleading to basketball and everything in-between."
"Senator Cheek sponsored bill 189 to provide concussion education requirements that helps provide for the removal of youth athletes from competition upon sustaining a concussion," Lewis said. "The requirements are simple in that the bill, if passed, will call for satisfactory requirements to be addressed by a medical professional before they can return to the playing field. Everyone wants to play. Their coaches want them to play, and their parents want them to play. We want them to play and know the benefits of a being active. But knowing the severity and long-term ramifications of head injuries, its simply the right thing to do to make sure proper guidelines are in place that protect the children."
The Chairman of the House Committee on Health and Welfare, Kay Kellogg Katz, opened the floor for questions for the members from the Committee and cited the expert testimony and unity of the assembled group. "This has been an impressive coalition that is clearly in unison," she stated. "Not only is there not any opposition to the bill, but the 16 members of the House Health and Welfare Committee will all co-sponsor the bill."
Katz also made special mention of the Saints and the National Football League's participation, stating "thank you to the Saints for the support. It is an important issue that is in front of us and your support and recognition is crucial."
The next step in the legislative process will be for the bill to be heard in front of the 105-seat House of Representatives in the coming weeks. In May, the bill (SB 189/Cheek) passed the Senate Committee by a vote of 9-0.
The bill is aimed to better protect Louisiana's youth athletes from both the acute and long-term dangers of concussions and second impact syndrome; increase state-wide awareness within coaches, officials, athletes, and parents alike; and improve and better standardize current health care practices regarding the evaluation and management of the concussed youth athlete to be in line with current recommendations and guidelines in medical literature.
Saints' Head Trainer Scottie B. Patton and Senior Director of Communications Douglas Miller joined Lewis for the hearing in the capitol. Lewis was specifically sited the work he and the team have long been associated with on the youth levels in the region, and stressed the importance of the medical experts, which included Dr. Anil Nanda, LSU Health Sciences Neurosurgery; Christopher Freeman, Chairman of the La. Youth Concussion Coalition; Dr. Aaron Karlin, Ochsner Sports Medicine Pediatrics, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; Dr. Gregory Stewart, Tulane Co-Director of Sports Medicine Program; Robert Smith (former Louisiana State University football player); and LaVondra Dobbs, Brain Injury Association of Louisiana, as driving members of the task force.
"These experts are here to tell us we have an opportunity to tackle a unique problem and that Louisiana can be among the states that is taking positive action to better protect our children," Lewis said. "We are aggressive in pushing for this bill, because an estimated 38 million children between the ages of 5-18 are playing sports and need our protection."
Cheek concluded the testimony by citing her own experiences as a parents and community advocate. "In discussing this measure with members of the state's various interest groups, which has included parents, members of PTA's and other grass roots groups, what I have found is education and awareness of the severity of brain issues is something that is so important. These are decisions that may seem part of a game at the time, but have lifetime affects."
The members of the House Health and Welfare Committee:
Kay Katz-Chair (Monroe)
Rickey Nowling-Vice Chair (Natchitoches)
Neil Abramson (New Orleans)
Regina Barrow (Baton Rouge)
Richard Burford (Stonewall)
Jean Doerge (Minden)
Bob Hensgens (Abbeville)
Dorothy Sue Hill (Dry Creek)
Walker Hines (New Orleans)
Michael Jackson (Baton Rouge)
Robert A. Johnson (Marksville)
John LeBruzzo (Metairie)
Bernard LeBas (Ville Platte)
J. Rogers Pope (Denham Springs)
Scott Simon (Abita Springs)
Thomas Willmott (Kenner)
CORE COMPONENTS OF LOUISIANA YOUTH CONCUSSION ACT
* Raise awareness of the dangers associated with management of concussions and brain injury suffered in youth sports.
* Establish training and education standards for coaches, officials, parents, and youth athletes for recognition of concussion and brain injury symptoms.
* Ensure that any youth athlete who is suspected of having suffered a concussion or brain injury is removed from play immediately and appropriately evaluated in an effort to avoid potential catastrophic injuries associated with second impact syndrome or other acute, related brain injury.
* Ensure that any student removed from play for having been suspected of suffering a concussion or brain injury is evaluated by an appropriate healthcare professional, with training in the management of concussion and/or traumatic brain injury, and cleared by that professional before returning to play.
* Recognize educational material made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as those provided by the National Federation of High Schools and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, as guidelines for concussion education and management.
* Promote increased education among coaches, officials, athletes, parents, and healthcare providers regarding the importance of prompt recognition of sports-related concussion and its subsequent appropriate proper management, both acute—on the field—and chronic, allowing safe return to play based upon current, accepted medical guidelines.
Second impact syndrome (SIS) is a condition in which the brain swells rapidly after a person has suffered a second, jarring impact before the symptoms from an earlier concussion have subsided. SIS can result in coma, severe mental debilitation, paralysis, and death. In general, since young athletes brains are still developing, they are more susceptible to catastrophic injury if the brain has not properly healed before suffering another impact.
The guidelines laid out in the Louisiana Youth Concussions Act are meant to protect youth athletes from suffering preventable brain injury.