EAST RUTHERFORD – Gov. Chris Christie signed a comprehensive concussion bill into law today at the new Meadowlands Stadium with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, N.Y. Jets owner Woody Johnson, and former NFL players at his side.
The bill’s architect, state Sen. Dick Codey (D-Roseland), gathered with the governor today in the stadium press room, with Assembly sponsors and the Randolph (Morris County) Bulldogs youth football team.
Under the law, any student athlete who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having suffered a concussion must be immediately removed from the competition or practice and may not return to competition or practice until written clearance from a physician is provided.
Codey said coaches should follow the simple guideline of “common sense: head injury, you’re out.”
The N.J. State Intercollegiate Athletic Association – under siege on other political fronts – attempted to get ahead of the concussion problem by instituting a policy in April requiring game or practice removal, a mandatory 12-day wait period, and battery testing before returning.
Codey said the state is “becoming a leader in this country with the signing of this bill.”
A youth basketball coach, Codey said he has practice tonight at 8 o’clock and will be handing out a short pamphlet on the bill to all the parents.
He’ll let them know, “If your son hits the hardwood, he’s coming out.”
He looked toward the young footballers in the crowd: “You young men – you may not realize this – but this could play a very important part in the rest of your lives.”
Goodell said, “It’s beyond football…This bill today will make sports safer.”
He said it’s even beyond sports; the NFL’s helmet research will be passed onto the military for use in their protective gear construction as well.
The law, S2106, will create a school head injury safety training program and implement procedures to protect student athletes with concussions.
Most observers assume full-contact sports like football and hockey are the biggest contributors to the problem, but a Star-Ledger series on student athletes and concussions showed even non-contact activities like cheerleading often lead to severe head trauma.
Christie gave Codey great praise for the bill. “The leadership really did come from the legislature on this,” he said.
Christie said he’s hoping this legislation can take the stigma of not being “tough” by ignoring or avoiding concussion symptoms.
He said he’s seen the young Bulldogs in action – “They’re good” – and offered advice.
“Your first and most important job is to take care of yourself,” Christie said.
He thanked Goodell and the former players for lending their celebrity to the cause: “The NFL is an enormously influential organization in this country.”
Jets owner Johnson, reeling from a Monday Night Football trouncing, said Goodell has been “trying to get every state in the union to pass legislation.”
The program will educate public and non-public school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on the warning signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries and concussions, including second-impact syndrome, secondary concussions sustained while healing from an initial concussion.
Timing for a return to competition or practice will be addressed and periodical research will be presented.
The bill also requires the Department of Education to create a handout on sports-related head injuries for student-athletes and their parents.
School districts would be required to annually distribute the fact sheet to students participating in scholastic sports, and would be required to get a signed acknowledgement from a parent or guardian before allowing the student to participate.
School districts and nonpublic schools will now be required to develop written policies and safety standards to prevent and treat sports-related concussions.
The Department of Education and head injury experts will create model regulations for the districts to use as a guideline, and the DOE will annually review the district policies.
Youth sports organizations that use school grounds are also asked to comply with the district policies, and hold an insurance policy with a minimum $50,000 per person, per occurrence.
Another requirement of the law is, in order for athletic trainers to get their state license renewal, they must complete 24 hours of continuing education in an approved sports medicine curriculum, partially related to concussions and brain injuries. Waivers are available for hardship and other situations.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) is taking up the charge on concussions in Washington D.C., heading the Congressional Traumatic Brain Injury Task Force. Pascrell co-sponsored a bill to provide federal grants for head-trauma testing nationwide.