State Views: We must do more to protect student athletes in Wisconsin

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Sen. Tim Cullen & Rep. Debra Kolste
Friday, June 6, 2014

Earlier this year, President Obama made headlines when he said that if he had a son, he would not let him play football. The president was discussing the risks of head injuries inherent in the game.

Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre joined the conversation recently, also saying that if he had a son, he would not let him play football. New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning said he kept his Super Bowl champion sons, Peyton and Eli, out of contact football in their younger years.

The issue of head injuries and concussions has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. In 2013, the NFL agreed to a $760 million settlement with more than 4,000 former players who contended that the NFL knew about the dangers of football-related head injuries without taking any action to address the issue.

But the dangers of head injuries begin long before collegiate or professional sports. The more we learn about this subject, the more convinced we are that we must do more to address the safety of Wisconsin's student athletes.

We have become increasingly concerned about concussions suffered by athletes, especially younger sports participants in our schools. Experts are in the early stages of studying the issue with the goal of ensuring that adequate measures are in place to not only help prevent concussions and other head injuries, but to also ensure that student athletes are properly diagnosed and treated in the event they suffer concussions. The first step in dealing with concussions is to understand what they are. Here are some common symptoms:

-- Appearing dazed or stunned.

-- Confusion.

-- Repeating questions.

-- Headache or head “pressure.”

-- Blurry or double vision.

A concussion is a type of brain injury. Even a seemingly minor bump can cause a concussion. Contact at other parts of the body can cause a concussion if it results in the head moving rapidly back and forth.

Many school districts are working proactively to address the growing concern over head injuries by implementing a concussion plan that includes protection, recognition, referral and treatment. Student athletes, parents and coaches have all been made aware of the seriousness of concussions and what to do in case symptoms are evident. Along with Sen. Bob Jauch, we recently met with University of Wisconsin Medical School Dean Robert Golden to discuss current practices regarding concussions and what can be done to further protect student athletes. Our work is just beginning, and our hope is to eventually put in place any needed safeguards beyond current regulations and policies in our school districts.

Andrew Sweat was signed by the Cleveland Browns for what appeared to be a multimillion-dollar career in the NFL. He was considered a bruising tackler at Ohio State, but his career had been marred by multiple concussions.

In the end, Sweat turned down the NFL offer. Here is his tweet announcing his decision:

“Concussion symptoms—didn't want to risk it. Thanks to the Browns for the opportunity. Health trumps football any day.”

Well said.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, serves the 15th Senate District, which includes most of Rock County and Whitewater, as well as parts of Jefferson, Green, and Dane counties. Email Sen.Cullen@legis.Wisconsin.gov; phone 608-266-2253. Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, serves the 44th Assembly District, which includes most of the city of Janesville. Email Rep.Kolste@legis.Wisconsin.gov; phone 888-947-0044.

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