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Will NFL's Latest Concussion Move Prompt More K-12 Athletic Trainers?

Last week, the National Football League announced that starting this past weekend, a certified athletic trainer will now be sitting in the press box at every NFL game to keep a watch out for possible injuries (largely, concussions).

It's a move that may eventually pave the way for the realization of the National Athletic Trainers' Association's goal of having an athletic trainer stationed at any school with athletics, NATA president Marjorie Albohm told me yesterday via email.

Under the NFL's new policy, if the AT notices a player who's potentially concussed or otherwise injured, he or she will have the ability to call both teams' sidelines to alert their medical staffs. It's important to note, however, that the ATs in the press box will not be able to prescribe treatment to players; they'll only be able to alert the team's medical staff.

The move comes as a direct response to the recent mishandling of Cleveland Browns' quarterback Colt McCoy, who sustained a concussion during a game, was never tested on the sideline, and returned to the game shortly thereafter.

It also comes less than a month after the NFL announced that a league observer would be stationed in the press box of every game to monitor for possible injuries.

Clearly, the league observer policy broke down when McCoy sustained his concussion and returned to the field without being tested. Athletic trainers with a legitimate medical background would theoretically have a better chance of recognizing symptoms of injured players and ensuring they leave the field of play before anything catastrophic happens.

Thus, the athletic trainers will take over the league observer's responsibility of watching out for player injuries and alerting the sidelines whenever they may have occurred.

At least one NFL trainer doesn't mind the extra help.

"Gosh, it's all about player safety," said John Norwig, the Pittsburgh Steelers' trainer, to USA Today. "To have a trainer who is used to taking care of players providing another set of eyes, I don't have any problem with it."

Impact on Youth Sports

Granted, the NFL is a $9 billion-a-year organization. Suffice it to say, I don't know too many K-12 school athletic departments flush with that kind of cash.

That doesn't make athletic trainers any less essential for K-12 sports programs, Ms. Albohm said. In fact, she believes "it is irresponsible to provide an athletic program without an athletic trainer," as "athletic trainers are the health care professionals trained in the prevention and management of injuries."

You may remember, I attended NATA's Youth Sports Safety Summit earlier this month, where one doctor suggested that 90 to 95 percent of deaths that happen in youth sports are preventable.

Ms. Albohm reinforced that point to me yesterday, saying, "documented preventable deaths have occurred on playing fields because health care professionals have not been present to recognize and immediately manage these injuries."

How does the NFL's new athletic trainer policy play into the K-12 level, though?

"Education and awareness is the key to creating change," Ms. Albohm said. "The NFL's concussion policies have put a spotlight on this and other injuries. That has created tremendous awareness of the importance of proper injury care for athletes and the important role that ATs play in that."

Remember, earlier this year, the NFL spoke out and encouraged all 50 states to adopt youth-concussion laws. At the time, only 11 states had such laws.

Now, 10 months later, 35 states and the District of Columbia have youth-concussion laws, with more already pending for the 2012 legislative sessions.

In other words: When the NFL wants something done, it gets done.

By requiring an athletic trainer in the booth of every NFL game, the league is not-so-subtly promoting the importance of ATs in the battle against football's concussion crisis.

Will schools take the NFL's lead and ensure that an athletic trainer is on hand when they're hosting sporting events? Time will tell.

But I know at least one organization which certainly hopes so.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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