Protecting Young Athletes

On a day when the NFL has settled a landmark lawsuit over player concussion (a subject on which I’ll write more later this week) it is worth remembering the measures closer to home that we all need to take to protect our kids from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

A recent report published by SafeKids Oregon outlines the scope of the situation: Last year 1.35 million children arrived in emergency rooms with sports related injuries. Fourteen percent of those injuries were to the head. The group at greatest risk are 12-15-year-olds, who account for nearly half of all youth sports injuries. Though football is the sport we most often associate with concussions and other head injuries, among young athletes the most dangerous sport in terms of concussions was ice hockey which, all by itself, accounts for 31% of all youth sports concussions. Football accounts for only 13%, a bit behind wrestling and tied with soccer. The study notes that in sports played by both boys and girls the latter tend to report higher incidence of concussions, but speculates that this may have more to do with social pressures than with the relative tendency of boys and girls to suffer from the injuries.

Most importantly, however, the study notes that “a Governor’s signature is the beginning of the game, not the fourth quarter.” Put another way: state laws designed to protect young athletes are only as good as the parents and coaches who enforce them. SafeKids Oregon notes that the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free online training program, known as “Heads Up”, for adults supervising youth sports.

SafeKids goes on to remind adults that though “the risk from concussions receives the most attention, other sports injuries should be addressed such as knee injuries, overuse injuries (like stress to a pitcher’s arm from throwing too many pitches) and dehydration.”
The bottom line is that all of us are responsible for children’s safety here in Oregon and elsewhere. Laws are only as effective as the people who enforce them and in the case of youth sports that means parents, coaches and even the children themselves – who need to be encouraged to tell an adult when something might be wrong rather than just ‘play through the pain’. As a Portland child injury attorney with a special interest in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries I see too many parents coping with the aftermath of poorly supervised sports or other activities. Keeping our kids safe can sometimes be hard, but implementing common sense solutions to make safety the norm, not the exception, shouldn’t be.

SafeKids Oregon: Game Changers