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The term ‘unintended consequences’ is often tossed around by legislators when they explain their reasons for not supporting a particular bill.
Laws are often crafted with good intentions, but include a poor provision or fail to account for potential pitfalls.
Such is the case with Senate Bill 721, which would require youth sports programs to detect and react to concussions.
On the surface this is a great idea, which comes at a time when more information has come to light regarding the potential long-term risks of improperly-handled concussions. Stiffening requirements in the name of child safety is a noble cause.
However, the problem with the bill lies in the details. Although it requires each youth sports organization to take concussion training, the law fails to identify what the training will be – instead leaving it up to each organization. That means that an individual who volunteers in more than one youth sports organization would take multiple training sessions with no guarantee that the trainings will match.
At the very least, the bill should require all youth coaches to take the same concussion training that Oregon high school coaches already take.
In addition to the training provision, neither doctors nor athletic trainers who are already trained in concussion recognition and treatment are exempt from the bill.
Senator Doug Whitsett was one of just two Oregon senators who voted against the bill. Whitsett realized that the real problem with the bill is in the area of civil liability. The bill has no enforcement mechanism, leaving each league or organization on their own to make sure that their coaches are properly trained. That leaves them open to lawsuits even when they correctly address and treat concussions. It is also possible that the legislation would make school districts liable if they allow youth sports programs to use their facilities.
Whitsett made local club volleyball coach Jerry Honl aware of the bill. Honl and Whitsett are both concerned about the potential for lawsuits, and believe that the ensuing financial risk could scare people away from volunteering in youth sports programs, and even force youth sports teams and leagues into cutting sports programs altogether due to the fear of expensive civil lawsuits.
We agree. Before any concussion legislation is passed, training should be standardized, an enforcement mechanism should be in place, and civil liability issues should be addressed.
A public hearing was held on the bill in late April and it now presumably awaits a House vote. We urge youth sports parents, coaches, and volunteers to get educated, get involved and speak up. The future of youth sports could hang in the balance.