Despite widespread awareness of an upward trend in catastrophic and sometimes fatal injuries to young athletes, legislative action has been slow to follow. This according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, which points out that although at least 75 bills in 32 states and the District of Columbia related to youth sports injuries have been introduced this year, only five have been signed into law.
"It is disappointing that so much legislation been introduced, yet so little has been passed," NATA president Marjorie J. Albohm said in a recent press release urging legislators to take action.
Citing sudden cardiac arrest, heat illness and concussions as three of the most pressing and dangerous types of injuries sustained, NATA cites data showing that 50 injuries proved fatal to young athletes last year, while four deaths have already been reported in 2011. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high school athletes account for two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
"With young athletes participating in year-round play both at school and on youth league and travel teams, it is critical for coaches, parents, athletic trainers, administrators, and others to ensure the safety of student athletes, yet only 42 percent of high schools have access to athletic training services," said Albohm. "The continued enactment of legislation will help keep our young athletes safe."
A review of the 75 youth sports safety bills that have been introduced in state legislatures this year shows that the overwhelming majority (53) are addressing AEDs represent the second and third most popular subjects of legislation, respectively, followed by bills that would mandate schools having access to athletic trainers. Individual state legislatures are also addressing bills related to cheerleading (Mass.) and steroids (N.Y.). Of the five bills that have been enacted, four are related to concussion awareness, prevention and treatment (South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado), while Resolution 75 in New Jersey encourages school districts to improve staff and student preparedness for incidents of sudden cardiac arrest.
While a small handful of bills have either been voted down or withdrawn, most of them are now in the hands of legislative subcommittees, where NATA - with a vested interest in promoting the athletic training profession - fears they will languish, especially as most legislative sessions have already expired or are soon to.
Said Albohm, "What makes this even more concerning is that state budgets are in crisis, so legislators are cutting programs that keep kids safe. In many cases athletic trainer positions are at risk of being terminated - eliminating the very people who protect and provide medical services to physically active children."