Legislators: Athletes should be benched after concussions

Two state Senate leaders want Connecticut to become the third state in the country to set standards for how high schools handle athletes with concussions.

With the support of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the senators today proposed legislation requiring that athletes with suspected concussions be benched until getting medical clearance.

“The mantra has become, ‘when in doubt, sit out,’ ” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

Looney and Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the Education Committee, said they are modeling their legislation after laws adopted last year in Washington and Oregon.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy says that 40 percent of high school athletes return to action too soon after suffering concussions, Looney said.

“We want to take action in the state of Connecticut before we have a particularly highly publicized tragedy, so we will have to have a victim for whom the law is named,” Looney said.

Gaffey said he was hospitalized after sustaining a severe concussion during a high school football game. He said he was fortunate: His coaches quickly recognized he was disoriented and got him medical attention.

One of 10 scholastic athletes suffers a concussion, he said.

“We want to create awareness of the seriousness of head injuries in interscholastic sport.” We want to beef up the criteria that coaches have to meet, so they are educated in recognizing the symptoms of concussions,” Gaffey said.

The bill will not require all schools to administer pre-season cognitive testing, which gives them results to judge how an athlete is faring after a concussion. Gaffey said the legislation will insist on medical clearance before play, leaving how fitness is determined to the doctors.

Forty-one public schools now voluntarily administer the cognitive tests, said Dr. Carl Nissen, the director of sports medicine at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

David Harackiewicz, coach of the Newington hockey team, attended a press conference with the legislators to support the bill.

“Our job is to create a safe environment for all our players,” he said.