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Concussion Risk Mitigation Taking Precedence in Higher Education

Merle Shapiro - Public Entity - Ironshore Specialty Casualty

The controversy surrounding the Will Smith film, “Concussion,” released in December will undoubtedly shine the spotlight on sport-related traumatic brain injury.  Heightened attention of professional athlete exposure to concussions, in particular, has risen to be a topic of national debate. The beneficial outcome of attentiveness to concussion risk in professional sports has trickled down to raise awareness at the college and high school levels amongst administrators, coaches, parents and student athletes.

Most recently, the NFL lawsuit signaled the severity and long term resultant medical implications from multiple or severe incidents of traumatic hits to the brain.  Injuries sustained are not limited to football, as young men and women athletes of any sport at the high school and college level are susceptible.  Ice hockey and soccer rank just behind football with the most reported concussions. An estimated 300,000 sport-related traumatic brain injuries, primarily concussions, occur annually in higher education, which is only 2nd to motor vehicle accident injury for this demographic.  ESPN has reported that a high school athlete is twice as likely to suffer brain injury as a college player. One out of every five high school athletes will suffer a form of concussion in a season, with nearly half of those sustained during practice.

While continued study is on-going, change is being driven by how sports leadership is establishing protocols for diagnosis, treatment and recovery.  Recognition of concussion symptoms is paramount.  Notably, 90 percent of student athlete concussion incidents do not involve loss of consciousness. The NCAA is taking the lead in student athlete education through its “step wise” progression program to establish college protocols.  Policies provide guidelines for treatment of the injury, when the player can return to physical activity and when sufficient recovery allows the athlete to return to sports play.  High schools, on the contrary, have less tools and resources to institutionalize policies to protect players; yet, many are making great strides by adopting protective procedures.   

Sport-related coverage for traumatic brain injury is included in a public entity’s institutional insurance program unless specifically excluded, which is rare.  The NCAA requires and most high schools conduct pre-season baseline physical testing of athletes. On-site presence of experienced trainers and/or medical providers at practice and during games is often stipulated.  Guidelines for specialty physician supervision throughout concussion treatment and recovery can also mitigate long term medical repercussions.    

Public awareness has raised the bar on the importance of proper concussion recognition and management.  Training classes and educational resources offered by sports organizations at the college and high school levels aim to protect the student athlete.  The insurance industry has endorsed such emerging protocols to address complexities surrounding the challenging risk associated with the long-tail exposure of sport-related traumatic brain injury.

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