The Erie County Legislature acted on behalf of children and their parents last week in voting to require concussion safety training by coaches in local youth sports leagues. Given what Americans have learned about the terrible consequences of repeated concussions in adults, it was incumbent to ensure that children are protected.
The vote was 10-1, but it did not pass without dispute. Legislator Peter Savage, D-Buffalo, sought to exempt youth baseball from the requirement on that grounds that baseball is not a contact sport and that implementation would create an “administrative nightmare.” Savage is close to the issue. He sponsors and coaches in the Hertel North Park Youth Baseball League.
But the Legislature correctly rejected that view. As Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, countered, baseball is, in fact, a contact sport. It’s just not a “collision sport,” as football and hockey are. But players run at high speeds. Baseballs are unforgivingly hard and whip around the field at high speeds. If the likelihood of a concussion is lower than in other sports, it remains a foreseeable possibility and the potential consequences are no less devastating.
Western New Yorkers don’t need to look far for evidence of the toll taken by concussions. Darryl Talley, a linebacker who played in the NFL for 14 seasons – 12 with the Buffalo Bills – was never diagnosed with a concussion but is certain that he sustained as many as 100 of them over his career. His body is deteriorating and, friends say, his mind is, too. He is 56.
Too many concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head trauma. The NFL has acknowledged the link between the routine on-field violence of its game and CTE.
Young athletes may not suffer the kind of physical punishment that professionals do, but post-concussive syndrome can affect anyone who suffers one of these brain injuries, sometimes lingering for months. What is more, if the concussion goes undiagnosed, a student athlete may be at higher risk to suffer an additional concussion.
Against those kinds of risks, county legislators were smart to insist upon this training. It’s not costly. Coaches can either take a free concussion safety program offered by the Erie County Health Department or online through the Centers for Disease Control’s HEADS UP to Youth Sports.
It’s also not unreasonable. It doesn’t seem too much to ask that youth league coaches get some basic training in helping their young athletes avoid the hell that men like Talley are suffering.