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Can Headbands Help Prevent Student-Athlete Concussions?

A growing number of soccer teams in Colorado are adopting protective headbands for their players, as the players and coaches feel that the headbands help protect the athletes from sport-related traumatic head injury.

Courtney Smith, goalie for the Liberty High School soccer team, believes her headband has helped her "countless times." "It doesn't take the whole blow away, but it does soften it," Smith said to The Gazette.

In Manitou Springs, Colo., headbands have become mandatory for both the boys' and girls' soccer teams in both high school and middle school. The Manitou Springs fire department outfitted both the boys' and girls' teams with headbands, which look like thick, padded pieces of cloth that wrap around the players' foreheads.

"If you play soccer here, boys or girls, you're going to wear them," Manitou Springs athletic director John McGee said to the paper. "It's just part of the uniform at this point."

Is there scientific data to back up the empirical evidence of the headbands' helpfulness? Well, not exactly...

[Manitou Springs fire Chief Keith] Buckmiller can't provide data that shows the bands definitely prevent head injuries, but he saw all the proof he needed firsthand at a Manitou Springs game against Trinidad this season.

A collision involving players on both sides had no effect on the Mustangs' player, but the Trinidad player showed many symptoms that Buckmiller's extensive training instantly led him to believe was a concussion.

In no way should these headbands be seen as an automatic concussion-prevention method. If a student-athlete's head gets jostled, his or her brain could still easily slam against the inner-wall of the skull, headband or not. (For more about the science behind concussions, see here.) That said, anything that can lessen the impact of head-to-head blows in sports shouldn't be taken lightly.

In other youth-concussion news, here's a quick-hit roundup of the latest on student-athlete concussion legislation across the U.S.:

In North Carolina: Student-athlete concussion legislation unanimously passed through the state House earlier this week, and is now under consideration by the state Senate, according to the News & Record.

The bill calls for the creation of an athletic concussion-safety training program, to be designed by a number of local medical organizations in conjunction with the education department. All coaches, school nurses, athletic directors, first responders, volunteers, students, and parents of students who participate in school sports will receive a concussion and head-injury information sheet on an annual basis, and all must sign the sheet before they're allowed to participate in any athletic competitions.

Much like the concussion laws in other states, under this bill, students suspected of a concussion would be immediately removed from competition and would not be allowed to return before obtaining medical clearance.

The bill is named the Gfeller‑Waller Concussion Awareness Act in honor of two former high school football players, Matt Gfeller and Jaquan Waller, who each died after sustaining brain injuries while playing football.

In Texas: A similar concussion bill to North Carolina's was passed by the state House on Thursday, and now heads to the state Senate, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Under the Texas bill, students who sustain concussions during athletic competitions would be removed from the contests and would require medical clearance before returning to play. Texas schools would also be required to develop standards for dealing with student-athlete concussions sustained during interscholastic competition under the bill.

Schools would also have to establish a concussion-oversight team, which would create a concussion protocol based on scientific evidence. The concussion-oversight team would be comprised of at least one physician and at least one of the following: athletic trainer, advanced practice nurse, neuropsychologist, or physician assistant.

The bill is named "Natasha's Law" in honor of Natasha Helmick, a freshman at Texas State University who retired from her soccer career after sustaining five concussions in four years.

And in Missouri: Former St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones spoke out in support of a student-athlete concussion bill during a state Senate committee meeting earlier this week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The bill, much like Texas' and North Carolina's, would require coaches to remove student-athletes suspected of a concussion from competition, and those student-athletes would need medical clearance before returning to competition.

Jones isn't the only former NFL player to support student-athlete concussion legislation; in fact, former Denver Broncos wide receiver Joe Brown spoke out in favor of legislation in Colorado, and Matt Blair, former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, threw his support behind legislation in Iowa. Both Colorado and Iowa have since signed their student-athlete concussion legislation into law.

The Missouri concussion bill unanimously passed the House last month. The Post-Dispatch reports that one provision in the bill—which said that volunteer medical professionals could not be sued for allowing students to return to play—has been singled out to be changed.

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