JEFFERSON CITY - The man who assured the St. Louis Rams a Super Bowl championship in 2000 came before the Missouri Senate Health Committee to urge passage of a bill that would impose standards on schools to handle concussions by student athletes.
The legislation would require the Health Department to provide educational guidelines for coaches, students and parents with information about risks of brain concussions. Also under the bill, athletes suspected of having sustained concussion or brain injury would have to be removed from the competition and could not return until evaluated by a licensed health-care provider.
Testifying in favor of the bill, former St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones said he believed young people tend to underestimate the significance of their injuries and many times simply need to be told to leave the game for their own good. "If you have brain injury, you have to let that calm down: a swollen ankle is something totally different than a swollen brain," Jones remarked.
In the last play of the 2000 Super Bowel, Jones tackled a Titans receiver one yard short of what would have been, with a conversion,, a game-tieing touchdown.
"Once you get one concussion, the odds of getting another one are very high if you're gonna go back in the play," said Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, sponsor of the bill. "I had a constituent whose nephew was playing football, got sacked and went back into the game. He is now suffering from learning disabilities that result from multiple concussions," said Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, who previously sponsored a similar bill.
Tom Martin, clinical associate professor at the University of Missouri and past president of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri said about 140 thousand high-school athletes sustain brain concussion each year in the US and "significant proportion of these kids are allowed to be turned to play before their concussion has been identified or appreciated." According to Martin, research has demonstrated that general public holds low appreciation and numerous misconception about concussions.
Neurologist Simon Hornstein, representing Missouri State Neurological Association, confirmed that many are unaware of the danger.
"For example, Lacrosse has more head injuries than football," Hornstein said, adding that 68 per cent of lacrosse players are likely to have a significant brain injury in their career. Sports Medicine physician David Dyck testified to the committee about his Center of Concussion Medicine. "The biggest problem I see in my practice is parents coming when their daughter is finally released and saying: "If only we had known beforehand what this was gonna be…" Dyck said. He added that children who suffer most from the injuries are those who have multiple concussions in short period of time.
Maureen Cunningham, Executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, pointed out that the injuries effect not only individuals, but also whole families. "Homework gets harder, school gets harder. Anger, anxiety and depression are the challenges that the family members may deal with," she said.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, expressed her concern about the fact that the bill exempts health-care providers who decide whether athletes get back in the play from all liabilities. "You're shifting the responsibility to the school districts, and we cannot afford that," Chappelle-Nadal said. "You may have 900 students and if there's a student that does have brain injury and does go back in the play, I don't know how much it is going to cost."
Woody Cozad, representing Missouri Public Attorneys for Civil Justice, expressed concern that responsibility for lawsuits would fall back on the schools.
"The liability doesn't just disappear. Somebody is going to pay the damages. This kind of waive needs to be resisted in this bill," Cozad said.
Gatschenberger said he was not opposed to the idea of adding language that would clarify the matter.