Defining head injuries
The NFL has brought concussions into the spotlight in recent years both with recent medical studies showing how damaged some former players’ brains are when their playing days are over and changes to improve to player safety.
Now it’s up to other organizations to make sure players are safe and head injuries are being accurately diagnosed and treated quickly.
Enter Utah House Bill 58 (HB0058S01). Proposed by Representative Paul Ray (R-District 13), the bill would amend the 2011 Protection of Athletes with Head Injuries Act, clearly defining who is responsible for athletes, what counts as a "sporting event," the requirements for a "traumatic head injury," and what exactly constitutes an "amateur sports organization."
The Protection of Athletes with Head Injuries Act requires a child suspected of sustaining a concussion or traumatic head injury to be immediately removed from the game until cleared to return by a "qualified health care provider."
Dr. Melinda Roalstad of Think Head First, a program designed for the management of head injuries in Park City, said strengthening the Act’s definitions is important for athlete safety.
"It’s defining exactly what we should be paying attention to, who is responsible and what the nuances are," she said.
Roalstad, who is seeing an increase in reported concussions, thinks recent medical studies on the long-term effects of concussions has increased awareness drastically.
"There’s definitely increased numbers, partially because we are looking for them and identifying them better," she said. "How many of these were there before that weren’t reported?"
Park City High School football coach Mike Shepherd, who is taking over the Miner program again next season after leading it from 1997 to 2005, said the way head injuries are diagnosed now is vastly different from when he started coaching.
"It’s pretty much night and day," he said. "I can’t say that there are more head injuries than there were back then; there’s just more of an awareness now."
He added that teaching players the right way to tackle and working on specific muscle groups in the weight room, along with improvements in helmet technology and rule changes that promote safety, could help reduce the number of concussions in the sport.
"Working on the neck muscles, back muscles and core muscles in the weight room and working on proper technique will help," he said. "You’re not going to eliminate all concussions, but there are things you can do to help prevent them."
PCHS girls’ soccer coach Chip Cook said the spotlight on head injuries is helping athletes recognize when they aren’t fit to play.
"Players are doing a better job recognizing that it’s not a safe idea to go back in the game," she said.
Despite more information and an increased awareness of what exactly constitutes a concussion, Roalstad doesn’t think they’ll ever go away completely.
"If you look at how sport is going in terms of increased speed, you’re going to see injuries in sports," she said. "There’s always going to be arguments on how we control this to avoid bad injuries, but I think we can do a better job managing things and strengthening (specific muscles) to help concussion prevention."
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Park City plays in the toughest region in 5A, and coach Purcell believes that mental toughness will help turn the season around.