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Two Safety Bills for Youth Sports Recently Introduced in Congress

Over the past few weeks, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced companion bills targeting a wide swath of youth-sports-safety issues.

The first, which Menendez and Pascrell introduced in their respective legislative chambers in late January, is the latest attempt to pass federal legislation regarding youth-sports concussions. It calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a report on "best practices for diagnosis, treatment, and management" of mild traumatic brain injuries in students no later than July 31 of this year, including best practices for student-athletes returning to play following such an injury.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, would be responsible for establishing guidelines for states "on the implementation of best practices for diagnosis, treatment, and management" of such injuries no later than 90 days after the CDC releases its final guidelines. The companion bills then call upon Congress to authorize a five-year grant program to help states adopt them and ensure that schools are "adequately staffed with athletic trainers and other medical professionals necessary to implement such guidelines." The money would also help schools implement computerized preseason baseline and post-injury neuropsychological testing for student-athletes, with $5 million being appropriate for fiscal year 2016 and "such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal years 2017 through 2020."

Within four years, Burwell or the then-Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required to submit a report to Congress on states' implementation of the CDC's guidelines, along with the number of schools that had adopted computerized neuropsychological testing. The report would also include the data that schools collected regarding the incidence of mild traumatic brain injuries and second impact syndrome among student-athletes.

Menendez and Pascrell initially introduced the legislation back in the 2010 session of Congress, where it passed the House but failed to earn approval in the Senate. In September 2011, the CDC announced it would develop a national protocol for the prevention and treatment of concussions in student-athletes. When the two Congressmen reintroduced the ConTACT Act in 2013, they suggested the CDC was expected to finalize its guidelines and recommendations in 2015. The 2013 version of the bill failed to gain approval in either the House or the Senate.

Last January, the National Football League publicly endorsed the federal legislation.

"The NFL deserves credit for efforts to improve player safety in its game and beyond, but there is still much that needs to be done for our younger athletes," said Menendez in a statement. "That is why I have pushed for national safety standards in youth sports, as well as federal funding to ensure that every child who takes the field is properly protected and that their parents have peace of mind."

Bill Takes Aim at Comprehensive Youth-Sports Safety

Menendez and Pascrell weren't done with just the reintroduction of the ConTACT Act, however. This week, along with Capps, they reintroduced the "Supporting Athletes, Families and Educators to Protect the Lives of Athletic Youth (SAFE PLAY) Act," a comprehensive youth-sports safety bill that expands far beyond concussions.

Though the text of the bill is not yet available, it aims to direct the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to do the following, per a release on Capps' website:

  • Recommend guidelines for emergency-action plans for student-athletes
  • Report the number of sports-related fatalities and catastrophic injuries, along with their cause, to Congress
  • Spread information about how to avoid heat-related illness
  • Recommend guidelines for the safe consumption of energy drinks by students

It would also help school districts in the following ways:

  • Developing a standard plan for concussion safety and management
  • Developing and implementing an excessive heat action plan
  • Teaching students across the country how to use automated external defibrillators (AED) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

"Parents, teachers, coaches and players should know the best ways to ensure the safety and health of young athletes on and off the field," said Menendez in a statement on his website. "This bill will make sure our schools have the resources and information needed to properly respond in the event of an emergency during a game and to be able to identify the warning signs so these emergencies can be prevented before they even happen."

Menendez, Pascrell and Capps worked in conjunction with the National Athletic Trainers' Association to develop the bill.

"All of the elements are critical for the health and welfare of our student athletes including the vital role the athletic trainer and other members of a school or program's sports medicine team have on the playing field," said the association's president, Jim Thornton, in a statement. "Encourage your U.S. congressional representatives to support this legislation. Bring this to the attention of school administrators, parent advocates, coaches, health care professionals and others. What is more important than keeping our kids safe on the playing field so they can do what they do best and excel at their chosen sport or physical activity?"

Menendez and Pascrell originally announced the bill back in September 2014, deeming it the "most comprehensive federal legislation before Congress aimed at improving the safety of youth athletes."

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