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A.G. Schneiderman issues consumer alert on concussion risks in youth football

by jmaloni

Press release

Thu, Sep 5th 2013 03:25 pm

Says claims that a helmet is "anti-concussive" or "concussion-proof" can be misleading and dangerous

With football season set to begin, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has issued a consumer alert on the risk of concussions to young football players. Head injuries, including concussions, can happen at any time on the field of play, regardless of the type of helmet being worn. Any claims suggesting that a particular helmet is "anti-concussive" or "concussion-proof" may be misleading and potentially dangerous by giving players and parents a false sense of security.

Instead, parents, coaches and young football players should rely on a number of tips and strategies to help reduce the risk of head injury, including: learning and recognizing symptoms of a concussion; minimizing head-to-head hits on the field; and enforcing stronger and stricter penalties against such behavior.

"It's important to remember that no helmet can fully prevent a concussion," Schneiderman said. "Ensuring that manufacturers don't mislead the public and endanger young New Yorkers is a key concern for my office. Just as important, we must work to educate young athletes and their parents about how to reduce the risk of concussion and detect early warning signs on the field."

Some manufacturers are promoting aftermarket add-ons for football helmets - such as liners, bumpers, pads and electronic devices - that promise to reduce the risk of concussion. However, there is little research evaluating the effect of physical impact on young athletes, and risk-reduction claims about helmets designed for adult players may not be relevant to youth. 

"Football helmets were developed to protect against massive head trauma but, unfortunately, we're seeing more evidence they have not been designed to prevent less immediately catastrophic injuries like concussions," said New York State Sen. Kemp Hannon of Nassau. "Despite some helmets being labeled 'anti-concussion,' this isn't necessarily the case. As I am the sponsor of the Concussion Management Awareness Act, I laud Attorney General Schneiderman's efforts to raise the public's awareness of this issue and to make folks aware that no helmet can absolutely prevent a wearer from getting a concussion in the event of a blow to the head."

"This will help parents, students and school officials be better informed when they decide to participate in sporting events," said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly education committee and lead sponsor of the Concussion Management and Awareness Act. "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is to be commended for his leadership on issuing this consumer alert on the risk of concussions to young athletes."

Robert Zayas, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, said, "The New York State Public High School Athletic Association fully supports the Concussion Management Law and applauds Attorney General Schneiderman's attention to this important issue. The goal of NYSPHSAA is to always minimize risk for the students who have the privilege of participating in high school sports. NYSPHSAA continues to promote proper technique and education for students, parents and coaches in an effort to minimize risks. However, all interscholastic sports have an inherent risk factor. NYSPHSAA will continue to work with state and national leaders to ensure rules and regulations are developed with student safety as its No. 1 priority."

"We practice safety first, especially since we deal with young kids who are just starting their football careers," said Demaris Johnson, regional director of the United Youth Football League in the City of Buffalo. "Since we start working with kids at a young age, we have the opportunity to spend most of our time teaching them the fundamentals, like how to tackle properly. We lay the foundation and help children learn the appropriate techniques, and when we achieve our objectives, we help protect players from injuries like concussions as their careers progress. Helmets aren't concussion-proof, and because of that, our instructions are an integral part of long-term player safety."

"At Canisius High School, player safety is of the utmost importance," said Rich Robbins, head coach and 2012 Buffalo Bills Coach of the Year. "We understand that no helmet is concussion-proof, which is why we do a number of things to help reduce the risk of injury, like teach 'Heads-Up Football.' It starts with our coaching staff. Each individual is certified and has completed a concussion awareness course. If an injury takes place, we can identify symptoms early and effectively and take the appropriate action.

"At Canisius, we also take part in baseline impact testing, which are Internet-based computerized neuropsychological tests that measure memory, executive functioning, speed of mental processing and reaction time. Players take these tests before the season begins. If a concussion occurs, the athlete takes the test again, allowing for a comparison with pre-injury brain functioning, before they are allowed to return to the field. Additionally, we spend a significant amount of time teaching proper tackling techniques. Drills are designed to prepare players for game day situations, and thorough instruction is a major component of every practice."

"Helmets alone don't prevent concussions. It takes a multi-faceted approach to keep players safe," said Joe Cantafio, head football coach at West Seneca West Senior High School. "In addition to concussion awareness certification courses for coaches and proper equipment fitting for our athletes, we make drills that teach proper tackling techniques a focal point of our practices. We believe that once proper techniques are ingrained in players, they will revert back to them during the game. This results in a safer overall experience."

Although the age, condition, type and fit of the helmet are important factors, reducing the risk of concussion is not "all about the helmet." In the spirit of New York's Concussion Management and Awareness Act - which became effective in July 2012 and mandates training for coaches, physical education teachers, school nurses and athletic trainers - Schneiderman issued the following tips to help further reduce the risk of concussion and head injury in youth football:

•Players, parents and coaches must be trained on the symptoms and risks of concussion.

•Recognizing the signs of concussion and removing a player immediately is extremely important. 

•New York law requires that players be removed from play until they are asymptomatic for a minimum of 24 hours and have written approval from their physician to return to play. 

•The number of concussions can be significantly reduced with modifications to practice format and an emphasis on penalty enforcement.

•Reducing the number of hits is instrumental to reducing the risk of concussion because of the cumulative risk from repeated hits. Limit the amount of contact in practice and forbid drills that involve full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling that begins with players lined up more than three yards apart. 

•Players need to be trained to focus on techniques that minimize head-to-head hits. Coaches and referees must strictly enforce penalties against such behavior.

Head injury, including concussion, is a serious concern for football players of all ages. Although most research on head impacts and football have been conducted on high school, college and professional football players, the risk of injury from concussion is also a serious concern for young players: 

Children have weaker neck and chest muscles than older players, with their necks underdeveloped relative to their head size. The effect of cumulative low-magnitude hits on children's developing brains is not known. 

A recent Virginia Tech study of 7-and 8-year-old football players revealed that youth players more frequently sustained low-magnitude blows to the head, but also recorded impacts with severity levels comparable to those found in collegiate football even though young players have less body mass and play at slower speeds.

Concussions are often underreported by football players for a variety of reasons. Young players often don't recognize the signs and symptoms of concussion and consider having "their bell rung" or being "dinged" as an expected consequence of playing the game. Others may not report concussion symptoms because they fear being removed from the game.

The popularity of youth football makes awareness of these risks all the more important. According to the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations, approximately 1.1 million high school students play tackle football and 3.5 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 play in youth football leagues. In New York, there were upward of 35,600 high school football players in 2012-13. The number of youth players was far greater.

If you feel you've been a victim of this type of situation or any other type of consumer fraud, contact the attorney general's consumer helpline at 1-800-771-7755.

A copy of the consumer alert can be read here.

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