The Rising Fear of Brain Injuries in School Sports – The Atlantic – The Atlantic

Some head injuries, of course, are too ugly to miss. During a scrimmage last August, a running back on the Kearny, New Jersey, high-school football team was knocked out when a linebacker from the opposing team lunged at him and they banged helmets. It wasn’t a proper tackle, said John Kryzanowski, the head coach of the Kearny team, and it didn’t help when his player landed head first. “We immediately ran out on the field, and so did the trainer,” Kryzanowski said. Paramedics eventually arrived, and the player woke up, but the concussion kept him off the field for three weeks. In addition to the state-mandated concussion training he has received over the years, Kryzanowski has educated himself on how to limit the injury in football, a sport he has coached for 14 years. He limits the amount of contact players experience during practice, requires the kids to practice their plays by running into soft bags rather than each other, and deploys “hawk tackling” to keep players’ heads out of tackles, among other measures. Most youth-sports coaches, he suggested, are conscientious about keeping players safe. “I don’t want kids to put their futures in jeopardy,” he said, and “most coaches are afraid of lawsuits.”

State lawmakers and sports governing bodies have taken some steps to respond to the science on concussions. By 2007, all states and the District of Columbia had passed modest legislation on concussions in youth sports, setting guidelines for when to remove an athlete from play after a suspected concussion, and suggesting when it was safe for the athlete to return. But just 21 states require coaches to be trained to recognize concussion symptoms, and no federal laws are in place that mandate concussion safety in high-school sports.

For its part, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which sets standards and guidelines for the disparate sports governing bodies in every state, has come forth with a variety of proposed measures to reduce head injuries in all sports; it created an online concussions course for coaches, and suggested specific changes in how football is practiced and played. In 2014, the organization went further, convening a special gathering of medical experts, coaches, and “stakeholders” to identify more detailed strategies for reducing head injuries in high-school football; they came up with nine “fundamentals” to minimize dangerous contact. The NFHS has consistently emphasized that its state membership organizations are doing their due diligence to reduce the risk of injury among student athletes. But the NFHS is a federation, not a governing body like the NCAA, and all of the proposed changes were just recommendations. “We do not have the mandated authority to say ‘you have to do everything that’s in here,’” said Bob Colgate, the director of sports and sports medicine at the NFHS.