Concussion, a type of brain injury, can occur in any sport, but football, hockey, soccer, and basketball have the highest rates of incident, especially among youth players.
In August 2017, a controversial study conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) ranked Colorado last among all states and the District of Columbia for state high school sports safety policies. These policies cover the four leading causes of death among high school athletes: sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke, and exertional sickling.
The Colorado High School Athletics Association (CHSAA) publicly rebuked the ranking and claims it did not participate when contacted by the institute.
KSI reports that policies were pulled and evaluated “directly from publicly available resources such as state high school associations and legislative websites,” which explains how the data was collected despite CHSAA’s lack of participation. The results of KSI’s study were recently published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine.
Colorado Plays Defense
Critics of poor-performing state policies cite tragedy as the ultimate motivation for change, and Colorado has seen its share of student fatalities on the field:
- In 2004, a 15-year-old freshman from Grandview High School in Aroura died after collapsing on the football field during a game. An autopsy later revealed bleeding around the player’s brain from a serious brain injury.
- In 2005, a 17-year-old Harrison High School football player from Colorado Springs collapsed during a game and died on the field from a cardiac condition.
- In 2017, a 15-year-old lacrosse player from Smokey Hill High School collapsed and died during competition—the cause of her death is still unknown.
Tragedy isn’t always a great motivator, but this doesn’t mean Colorado hasn’t tried to make school athletics (particularly contact sports like football) safer for student athletes.
In 2012, almost 10 years after the death of the Grandview football player, Jake Snakenberg, Colorado’s Senate Bill 40, also called the Jake Snakenberg Youth Sports Concussion Act, took effect.
At the time, this legislation was one of the most comprehensive bills covering concussion management and player safety; but today, many states have advanced beyond what Colorado outlined more than five years ago—what we know about brain injuries and football has advanced as well.
Improving Player Safety in Colorado
So, what’s missing from Colorado’s student safety policies? And why did Colorado rank so low in KSI’s study? Here’s a look at how Colorado compares to top performing states in the country:
According to the KSI report, North Carolina (1), followed by Kentucky (2), and Massachusetts (3), have the most comprehensive high school sports safety policies. The lowest scoring states include Colorado (51), California (50), and Iowa (49).
When comparing best and worst ranked states, Colorado is missing some key policies:
- There are currently no policies in place for the training or management of exertional heat stroke.
- Coaches are not required to have “Heads Up Football” training.
- No health care professionals such as athletic trainers are required to be present for games or practices.
- Schools that sponsor athletic programming are currently not required to develop and maintain an emergency preparedness plan, which includes access to onsite medical equipment.
- Supervision of athletic programming does not require safety certifications such as CPR, first aid, and education on the prevention of sudden death in sport.
What Colorado’s bill is most effective at is ensuring that coaches, trainers, and volunteers receive mandatory concussion training. This training includes how to detect signs and symptoms, and requires any player suspected of having a concussion to be taken out of play immediately; and players can’t return to play until a medical professional provides written clearance.
Senate Bill 40 delivers no required training on other potential dangers such as heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, or exertional sickling.
What Colorado Parents Should Know
Student safety is, and should be, a priority among all Colorado schools. But that doesn’t mean school administrations and coaches are immune from making critical errors.
As with cyberbullying cases, student athletes may be reluctant to discuss symptoms or injury, especially if he or she is competing for scholarship or other incentive. And while educating students is part of generating awareness, it’s the coaches, trainers, parents, and physicians who are ultimately reasonable for detecting and managing student injuries on and off the field.
Neglected or mismanaged head injuries are especially dangerous, as signs and symptoms may not be visible for days or weeks after injury. Repeat impacts, even those that don’t result in concussion or loss of consciousness, have been linked to degenerative brain disorders like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and Alzheimer’s, at nearly every level of play, including high school football.
Thanks to Senate Bill 40, there are some legal parameters in place to protect youth players, but that doesn’t mean protocols are properly followed all the time. Most sport-related injuries are not fatal, but as the evidence shows, some Colorado students have suffered the ultimate price.
If you or your child suffered a sports injury whose effects may have been worsened by the lack of an appropriate response, please contact the Denver injury attorneys at The Frickey Law Firm to discuss your legal options.