A concussion awareness bill got a strong push on the Georgia House floor Friday from a lawmaker who’s a former UGA linebacker. State Rep....

ucberkeley-california-goldenbears-2417054-oA concussion awareness bill got a strong push on the Georgia House floor Friday from a lawmaker who’s a former UGA linebacker.

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), who also played pro football, told his legislative colleagues that he probably had concussions during his career, though he later told GHN that he has not shown any ill effects.

Douglas, who’s currently a coach in high school, made the point that some athletes haven’t been so fortunate. “This bill prevents long-term effects on the mind and brain,’’ he said. “Players I played against can’t tie their shoes’’ due to concussions.

Shortly afterward, the Return to Play Act passed the House chamber Friday by a 161-7 vote. The NFL supported it, as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia High School Association.

The main provisions of House Bill 284, said chief sponsor Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman), include informing parents or guardians of school sports athletes of the consequences of concussions, and educating coaches and school training staff on how to recognize symptoms.

And under the bill, any player with a concussion must be removed from a game until a health care provider clears the athlete to return.

Last year, a similar concussion bill gained support but ultimately died in the House.

The attempt to standardize protocols for injured athletes has accelerated nationally, with medical professionals, athletes, coaches and players’ families giving increased attention to sports concussions.

The CDC estimates that up to 3.8 million concussions related to sports or recreation occur every year in the U.S. (Here’s a CDC information page about signs, symptoms and treatment of concussions.)

Former football players, hockey players and other athletes have reported having serious neurological issues in retirement. Hundreds of former players are suing the NFL over concussion-related health problems.

The NFL, while it denies the claims, has pursued a crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits by players, and it instituted a league-wide sideline testing protocol for concussions.

Pruett told House lawmakers that concussions can have “devastating effects’’ on children. The years from age 7 to 19, he said, are “a critical time when the brain is forming.’’

Each school system can adopt its own concussion plan, he said.

Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), another sponsor of the bill, told House lawmakers that in 2010, Georgia emergency rooms treated more than 12,000 children for head injuries that were not automobile-related.

Forty four states have a similar law in place, Pruett said after the vote.

The legislation also applies to cheerleaders, who are often at risk of head injury but do not wear any protective gear.

Pruett said last year’s legislation had too many mandates for schools to follow.

Under the bill passed Friday, recreation sports leagues must provide the parents the information sheet on concussions, and are encouraged, but not required, to take the other steps.

Too often in the past, players have suffered concussions but have been put immediately back into games or simply continued playing, experts say. (Here’s a GHN article from last year on this issue.)

Demetrius Douglas, who played in the 1980s, said that he likely had concussions, though he wasn’t aware of it.

The goal of the legislation is to prevent long-term injury, he told GHN after the vote.

“Kids want to play the game but don’t understand [the impact] on the brain.’’


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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