The provision allowing parents to make return-to-play decisions will be removed from HB 116, one of the bill’s sponsors, North Carolina state Rep. Greg Murphy said Tuesday.
“That’s going to be changed,” Murphy, who is also a physician, told USA Today. “It’s not necessary because I don’t believe parents are medical professionals and they are not qualified to make such decisions. I’m not sure why that was included, but it’s definitely going to be removed.”
“We have no intention whatsoever of allowing parents to make decisions about the neurologic safety of their child returning to play,” Murphy said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
A bill under consideration by the North Carolina legislature calls for the implementation of several measures aimed at improving safety for children engaged in high school or middle school sports. However, one provision has come under scrutiny, as it would allow parents of children thought to have possibly suffered concussions to authorize their return to play.
A North Carolina law passed in 2011, called the Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act, included a passage regarding students “participating in an interscholastic athletic activity” who exhibited “signs or symptoms consistent with concussion.” Those students were to be “removed from the activity at that time” and not “allowed to return to play or practice” until they received “written clearance” from a licensed physician, neuropsychologist or athletic trainer, or a physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
The new bill, HB 116, keeps that wording but adds “the student’s parent or legal guardian” to the list of people allowed to give written clearance for a return to play. More expansive than Gfeller-Waller, HB 116 would also require state and local boards of education to “educate those involved in school athletic activities on sudden cardiac arrest and heat-related illnesses,” and it would direct the establishment of “a database on the occurrence of injury and illness” by student-athletes.
“Probably the scariest thing we deal with is dehydration, heat illnesses,” Ron Butler, athletic director for Pitt County (N.C.) schools, said to WNCT. However, Katie Flanagan, director of athletic training at East Carolina University, told the station that the bill “gives the parents a determination that their child is fine and can return to play with a concussion.”
“I’ll preface by saying I’m not a parent, but I don’t believe HB 116 is in the best interest of the athletes,” Flanagan told Vocativ.com. She also pointed out that, in Gfeller-Waller, North Carolina already “has a very robust concussion law.”
On Monday, Patriots defensive end Chris Long weighed in on that part of the proposed legislation. “I have a bill: Any parent that wants to bypass concussion protocol at the high school level should be banned from games,” he said on Twitter. “Oh and public roads, businesses, etc.”
On the subject of concussions, Long said in 2016 (via the Associated Press), “I try not to think about it, but the evidence seems to be mounting that we’re in trouble. Eight years in, the damage is done.”
The NFL reached a settlement last year of a class action suit brought by thousands of former players, who accused the league of misleading them about the dangers posed by concussions and other forms of repeated brain trauma. Earlier that year, a league official affirmed for the first time that a link exists between football-related brain injuries and the development among some ex-players of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure.
Football players at all levels below the NFL are also increasingly viewed as being at risk for incurring brain trauma and possibly developing a neurodegenerative disease, causing concern among parents and medical professionals. However, while HB 116 calls for all parents of children playing high school and middle school sports to receive “a concussion and head injury information sheet,” few parents have the medical training to properly discern if a given child has recovered sufficiently from a brain injury.
In fact, on an anecdotal basis, many parents of athletes don’t display the most rational behavior when it comes to their kids’ sports careers. In that light, and just for basic safety reasons, keeping return-to-play decisions in the hands of trained medical personnel would seem to be the most sensible path.