OUR OPINION: State finally passes athletic brain-injury law

Passage last week in the Legislature of a bill in direct response to nationwide concern about football-related brain injuries with lifelong and even fatal consequences brings Mississippi into line with every other state in an effort backed by the medical professions to protect young athletes receiving head injuries during school activities.

Beginning July 1, what’s called the “Return to Play” law, supported by the National Football League among many other backers, will require that “if an athlete is suspected of having sustained a head injury in the course of play, the student will be immediately removed from play and will be prohibited from returning until they have received a thorough examination by a trained medical professional and are cleared to return,” in the description written by the Mississippi State Medical Association.

The law follows the procedures in place within the Mississippi High School Activities Association, the powerful governing body of all public high school activities and athletics in Mississippi.

The MSMA, Brain Injury Association of Mississippi, and the Athletic Trainers Association have spoken out in support of the legislation, scheduled to be signed within days by Gov. Phil Bryant.

Chair of the MSMA Board of Trustees Dr. Lee Voulters commented, “It is certainly reassuring to know as a physician and as a neurologist especially, that extra precautions have been mandated by law to protect our young athletes. Concussions are a serious issue and it is gratifying to see Mississippi finally recognize the need for legislation such as this – as the rest of the country has.”

An MSMA statement said: “While it is almost impossible to prevent the first concussion, sustaining further trauma to the head before allowing the brain sufficient time to heal from the first impact has been shown to cause the majority of the long-term implications associated with brain trauma.”

An equally serious concern is injury impact on youth league players. Seventy percent of football players in the nation are kids ages 6-13, and almost 3.5 million play the sport.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that sports-related concussions in the U.S. occur at a rate of 1.6-3.8 million a year. Of these, concussions in high school athletes are estimated to account for 300,000 a year, with football accounting for an estimated 67,000 a year. The statistic converts into an average of one concussion in every football game.

Remaining unanswered is what impact brain injuries will have on the long-term viability of football at every level.