D.C. bill would sideline athletes with possible concussions

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 7:54 PM

From youth soccer to high school football, young athletes in the District would be sidelined from practices and games when they show signs of a concussion, under legislation introduced Tuesday by D.C. Council members.

The measure would prohibit athletes on both recreational and school sports teams from returning to the field until they are evaluated by and receive written clearance from a health-care provider. The District would follow nine states, including Virginia, Oregon and Massachusetts, in taking on an issue that has become a significant health concern in recent years because of the long-term problems associated with head injuries in sports.

"A lot of times kids say, 'I'm all right,' and lot of parents and coaches don't know what to do," said council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who has coached youth sports and who joined council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and David A. Catania (I-At Large) in sponsoring the measure.

The discussion came on the council's first day in session since Chairman Vincent C. Gray defeated Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in last week's Democratic mayoral primary.

The legislation, designed to raise awareness about concussions and protect student-athletes, goes somewhat further than policies in District public schools, where nearly 5,000 students participate in athletics. Jamila Watson, the lead athletic trainer for the school system, said certified trainers evaluate athletes who show signs of a concussion and make decisions about disqualification from practices or games. The trainers consult with team physicians, she said, before determining whether a student can return to the field, but not necessarily with written clearance.

Watson said the school system is poised to begin computerized testing used by professional and collegiate teams to evaluate the magnitude of concussions.

"We're in strong support of it," Watson said of the bill, which is also backed by the National Football League and the Brain Injury Association of Washington, D.C.

The mayoral primary campaign may have ended last week, but the tensions between the council and the Fenty administration were on display Tuesday when members attempted to resurrect several bills the mayor rejected during the recess in "pocket vetoes." Without discussion, the council unanimously approved a measure intended to block a settlement payment to one of the firms at the center of an ongoing special counsel investigation into parks and recreation renovation contracts.

In July, Attorney General Peter Nickles and the firm, Banneker Ventures, agreed on a $550,000 settlement after the company's contract was terminated amid the investigation into how the contract was awarded.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has said his office will make not pay Banneker because of the council's previous actions. But Tuesday's legislation was intended to strengthen Gandhi's position. Banneker has sued the city for non-payment.

Banneker executive Omar Karim, a friend and fraternity brother of Fenty's, was deposed Tuesday as part of the investigation. Special counsel Robert P. Trout is scheduled to interview others, including Fenty administration officials, in the coming weeks. Trout anticipates finishing his work before the end of the council session Dec. 31.

Separately, the council passed emergency legislation that would allow trustees of the University of the District of Columbia to operate with reduced membership because of the high number of vacancies on the university's board. For months, the mayor and the council have been unable to agree on Fenty's appointments to the 15-member board.

Gray said Monday that he considers the nominees put forward by the mayor "unqualified," in part because they would not bring "influence or affluence" to the position.

Outside the John A. Wilson Building, council members also took the Fenty administration to task during a union-organized news conference for not seeking council approval to renew a multimillion-dollar contract with a security company that guards government buildings.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (At Large), who won the Democratic nomination to succeed Gray as chairman, and Mendelson said that the District's contracting law requires council review of contracts of more than $1 million. They also raised questions about the quality of the company, U.S. Security Associates, which failed tests this spring by inspectors sneaking weapons through checkpoints.

But the District's chief procurement officer, David P. Gragan, said the renewal of the contract was "done properly, in accordance with the rules in place at that time." Last month, Nickles called the failures at the checkpoints unacceptable but said the city was unlikely to end the contract because of the significant training of the security workers.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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