Youth sports coaches and managers in Erie County may soon be required to take a brief course on concussion awareness and safety. A proposal is on the table in the Erie County Legislature and, Thursday morning, lawmakers heard testimony from people who have front-line knowledge of concussion safety.
While a wealth of information has emerged in recent years about the long-term effects of concussions, especially in cases when the victim is not allowed the adequate time to fully recover, there remain concerns about whether the adults who lead youth sports organizations are properly trained to recognize the symptoms.
A proposed local law would require those directly involved in youth sports in coaching or organizer positions to attend a course once every two years, at no cost to those individuals. Sports organizations that are unable to provide documentation that their coaches and managers are up to date with training would be subject to fines.
The Erie County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee hosted a public hearing on the proposal Thursday morning and heard testimony from two individuals who have firsthand knowledge of youth sports concussions.
"Educating people about identifying concussions, that's the most important thing at the youth sport level," said Dr. John Leddy, director of the University at Buffalo's Concussion Clinic. "You cannot prevent all concussions in sports, especially in collision sports, but what you can do is hope to ensure that concussions are identified as much as possible in kids."
The proposal has bipartisan sponsorship from Legislators Patrick Burke and Joseph Lorigo. This version of the legislation is revised from earlier versions and gained Lorigo's support once concerns about cost of the course were addressed. Youth sports organizers would not have to pay, and one of the possibilities raised during the hearing was that the University at Buffalo may provide a cost-free venue for the sessions.
Lorigo also spoke of a concern raised by fellow Legislator John Mills about liability. He was concerned that coaches or leagues may be sued by a parent if they miss a concussion, even after completing training.
"We do live in a litigious society, I'm an attorney by profession, and unfortunately that's part of what we have to deal with," Lorigo said. "But there's insurance for that, as you heard on the floor today.
"It isn't something we should really be worried about, when we're talking about protecting children."
Co-sponsor Burke expressed a need to address the notion that one can shake off a hard hit and stay in the game. It's a culture he believes that still poses a challenge in contact sports.
"I've seen my 9-year-old son get knocked around pretty good and he still tries to get up and be a tough guy," Burke said. "I don't think we're there yet, but I think we're stepping the right direction. And I think the more we educate parents, the more we will ensure that their children are safe."