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Editorial: Concussion awareness ... law not best solution

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Concussions are getting serious attention at all levels of sports. High school football coaches continually emphasize safe tackling practices with their players, and the NFL has tightened its policies on using the head as a weapon.

In addition, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with thousands of former players who developed dementia and other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by on-field violence.

Now an Indiana lawmaker plans to sponsor a bill in the next session requiring all youth football coaches using public fields to undergo training to help prevent their players from suffering head injuries and to learn how to spot the signs of concussions.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said his measure would require coaches using taxpayer-funded facilities to be certified through the “Heads Up Football” online program created by USA Football, the nation’s governing body for the sport. If lawmakers approve the measure, he said Indiana would become the first state to require youth coaches be certified through USA Football’s online training program.

“Heads Up Football” focuses on proper tackling techniques — including keeping one’s head up. It also teaches coaches to recognize the signs of a concussion, how to respond to concussions, how to properly fit players in helmets and other equipment and how to handle the threat of heat stroke.

In an interview with The Associated Press, USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck said the program was used last year in three pilot locations but this year has been adopted by nearly 2,800 U.S. youth football leagues. He said the online course is divided into 16 chapters with quizzes after each section and takes about two hours to complete, but it can be done in segments at different times. Participants must pass by at least 80 percent or take it again.

The cost of the online program is $5 for youth football coaches and $25 for high school coaches.

An Indiana law that took effect last year requires schools to remove student-athletes immediately from play or practice if they are suspected of sustaining a concussion and not allow them to return until they have written clearance from a health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions.

Holdman said his bill is the next step in protecting young players from injuries that have been linked to neurological problems, including dementia and depression.

We agree with the sentiment behind the proposal. Teaching proper technique in order to reduce the risk of brain injury is a worthy and appropriate goal. But is legislation the right avenue to pursue? Surely public education would be the more appropriate way to approach the issue.

In addition, is channeling the training through a single entity the right approach?

Coaches and officials already attend workshops where concussion guidelines are discussed, and state high school rules have been tightened, so that players cannot return to a game if there is doubt about their health.

These efforts should continue and would seem the most appropriate way to deal with this serious health question.

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