Penn Player’s Mother to Testify About Concussions in Congressional Hearing
The New York Times – September 17, 2010
The mother of Owen Thomas, the football player who killed himself in April and was recently found to have died with early stages of the same brain disease found in more than 20 professional players, will testify at a Congressional hearing on youth sports concussions on Thursday.
Thomas’s mother, the Rev. Kathy Brearley of South Whitehall Township, Pa., will appear before the House Education and Labor Committee. It is the eighth hearing on the issue of brain injuries among athletes of all ages since October.
“This particular problem is very complex, reaches across the whole country and well beyond,” Brearley said. “It reaches across a wide age range of athletes. It has implications for military personnel experiencing mild concussions in combat.”
The committee is considering legislation requiring all public school districts to implement a concussion safety and management plan in all sports, provide special education services for students with lingering cognitive symptoms, and remove athletes from games and practices if they are suspected of having concussions.
“Student-athletes, parents, teachers and coaches all need to be more aware of the signs, symptoms and risks of concussions to ensure every player is safe and protected, on the playing field and after the game,” the committee’s chairman, , Democrat of California, said in a statement.
Other witnesses will include Dr. Gerry Gioia, chief of pediatric neuropsychology for Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, and Alison Conca-Cheng, a senior at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Md., who is recovering from a concussion she sustained while playing soccer.
Researchers at ’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy disclosed on Monday their finding that Thomas died with the beginnings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive and incurable brain disease caused by repetitive brain trauma and tied with depression and impulse control.
While connecting the disease to Thomas’s suicide is only speculative, doctors said the case was significant to youth sports because Thomas had developed the condition by age 21 and while playing only in amateur football.
Thomas had no documented concussion history, raising the question of whether the disease was catalyzed less by concussions than by the accumulation of more routine blows to his head.
In a grim coincidence, the findings related to Thomas’s brain trauma were announced only days after the death of an 11-year-old football player from Muskego, Wis. The player, Evan Coubal, sustained a concussion in a game and several days later accidentally hit his head during recess, according to the Milwaukee radio station WTMJ. He was rushed to the hospital and died two days later, on Sept. 5.
At least 32 high school and youth football players were killed by or made incomplete recoveries from head injuries from 2006 to 2009, according to a log kept by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the . That was almost twice the total from the previous four-year period.
Many states have passed or are considering legislation that requires concussion awareness for coaches, players and their parents, as well as strict rules about when and by whom public school players can be cleared to return to play after a concussion.
In March, the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations passed a rule that requires any player who shows any symptom of concussion to be removed from a game and not be allowed to return “until cleared by an appropriate health-care professional.”
On the federal level, on Thursday, the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act, which would require the to convene a conference of medical, athletic and education professionals to establish a set of concussion management guidelines for student athletes.
It also authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to grant states money to implement new concussion policies as well as purchase testing equipment to better protect student-athletes.
“More and more of my colleagues in Congress are realizing what so many families across the country have realized,” said Representative , Democrat of New Jersey, who introduced the legislation after a New Jersey high school football player died of head injuries in October 2008. “A concussion is brain damage, pure and simple.”