Baton Rouge---The New Orleans Saints, the National Football League and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association joined forces today with leaders of the state's medical community to endorse the Louisiana Youth Concussions Act before the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The bill, SB 189/Cheek, passed the Senate Committee by a vote of 9-0.
"In presenting this bill, I found it to be an incredibly educational experience for me," said Senator Sherri Smith Cheek (Keithville). "This stands to greatly benefit the student-athletes, both girls and boys, who we know compete and really push themselves. Now we have the New Orleans Saints and the NFL behind us and pushing hard to bring awareness and education to this issue, and we can all feel the momentum of having our medical communities, our youth coaches and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association banding together to help steer this important legislation through. It is a unified group working together to better the playing fields for everyone on every level."
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.
New Orleans Saints Director of Player Development Fred McAfee, joined in attendance by Saints' Head Trainer Scottie B. Patton and Senior Director of Communications Douglas Miller, testified before the Louisiana Senate Committee and strongly urged the Senators to move forward with the Act to help better educate and protect youth athletes in all sports against the perils of concussions. McAfee's testimony in front of the committee was as follows:
"Thank you to Senator Cheek and the Senate members of the Louisiana Health and Welfare Committee for taking the time to hear our voices today. My name is Fred McAfee and I currently serve as the Director of Player Development for the New Orleans Saints. Please don't hold it against me but I was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi and played football as a student-athlete at Mississippi College.
"I was drafted by the Saints in 1991. I spent a total of 16 seasons in the NFL and was fortunate to return to Louisiana and play my final seasons with the Saints from 2000 through 2006. I proudly call New Orleans and this state my home.
"On behalf of owners Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc and everyone at the Saints' organization, I testify in support of SB 189 –The Louisiana Youth Concussion Act.
"Like most professional athletes in all sports, I've had my share of injuries. Quite frankly, I can recall a concussion I suffered while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers when I was hit by a teammate of mine who was blocking for me. It was known at the time as just having 'my bell rung.' But today, we know so much more. I was woozy, but could shake it off quickly and returned to the game. I wanted to be in there helping our team win, and I didn't want to risk losing a spot on the roster that I had worked so hard to earn. Looking back on it now, I realize that wasn't the smartest decision on my part. But today, that's the reason I am here. We want to take the step of better educating the athletes, coaches and parents about the risks associated with concussions, not just in sports like hockey and football, but in soccer, baseball, basketball, wrestling, and in front and back yards and in parks across our state.
"Being around today's NFL players and coaches as much as I am, I know they know more about health and safety than my teammates and I did when I entered the NFL in 1991. Medical science has advanced so far and that is especially true about concussions and other brain injuries. I believe that the same medical knowledge---much of it common sense medical information---also should be available to today's coaches and players on the youth and high school levels. There is an abundance of this information on several websites where youth coaches, players and their parents can be educated on the symptoms and warning signs of concussions.
"I believe there are two major advantages to having a state law on this issue: One) It will educate players, teammates, parents and high school coaches on the dangers of concussions and; Two) It will help everyone playing high school sports, regardless whether they live in New Orleans or in a small rural town. This bill, if passed, will shine a bright light on the issue for everyone.
"Over the years, one of the many things I have learned is that athletes in all sports are competitive. That's true whether they are NFL players or high school athletes playing girls basketball or boys soccer. Athletes don't want to come out of games due to injury and most usually want to go back into action even if they are not fully healed. They want to play and want to keep their spot on the team.
"To that point, I speak from personal experience. I was on some pretty good teams in the NFL and it was a badge of honor to continue playing with an injury. We are learning today that returning to play with a sprained ankle is one thing; returning to play before being fully recovered from a concussion or other head injury is a great deal more serious. Young athletes--and their parents--need to be educated on the symptoms and dangers of concussions and should not be allowed to return without medical clearance. That is what SB 189 is about.
"It is important that medical personnel—rather than the parent, coach or young athletes themselves—make the decision when it is okay for the player who has suffered a concussion to return to practice or a game.
"One final point: suffering a concussion does not necessarily mean being knocked unconscious. I have seen many players during my playing career that went to the sideline with all the symptoms of a concussion without being knocked out.
"Thank you for allowing me to express my views. I am pleased to be here in the state capitol and all of us connected with the Saints will do whatever we can to help see that this legislation is passed into law.
The testimony, as well as that from 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, was positively received by the members of the committee.
"We want to thank the Saints for leading the way with this legalization and important work," said Senator Cynthia Willard-Lewis (New Orleans). "This is an issue that the entire community of this state needs to better understand. This helps us better understand that winning can never trump the safety of a player-regardless of what level it may be and regardless of what sport it is."
"I can say that I am very proud to co-sponsor this bill," Sen. Ben Nevers (Bogalusa) said. "It's very important. The health and safety of children is something we can never take for granted and to have a uniform policy in place that provides guidelines and proper education for all involved is very positive."
The members of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee:
Sen. Willie Mount–Chair (Lake Charles)*
Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek-Vice Chair (Keithville)*
Sen. Dale Erdey (Livingston)
Sen. Butch Gautreaux (Morgan City)
Sen. Joe McPherson (Woodworth)
Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (New Iberia)
Sen. Ben Nevers (Bogalusa)*
Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis (New Orleans)
*Denotes a sponsor/co-sponsor of Senate Bill No. 189.
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.