The NFL’s Smart Heart Sports Coalition Advocates for Better CPR, AED Protocols at Youth Level

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Photo by Martin Splitt, courtesy of Unsplash

Timothy Burroughs-Love, a senior football captain for American Heritage School in Florida, suffered a seizure while standing on the sidelines at Miami Dade College’s Traz Powell Stadium during the first quarter of a preseason game against Booker T. Washington Senior High School. Burroughs-Love’s heart stopped as a result, and it was the quick action of a trained staff of coaches and athletic trainers that saved his life. After the game, American Heritage School’s head athletic trainer told a local news outlet that saving Burroughs-Love’s life was a team effort that required training and preparation.

Not every instance of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at a prep athletic contest has a happy ending, and the NFL hopes to change that. In March, the league formed The Smart Heart Sports Coalition in response to the life-saving emergency care provided to the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin after he collapsed during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals last season. The coalition is advocating that all 50 states adopt a three-pronged, evidence-based policy to include: an athletic emergency action plan (EAP) that is venue specific, widely distributed, posted, rehearsed and updated annually; clearly marked AEDs at each venue or within minutes of each venue at which high school practices or competitions are held; pulmonary resuscitation education, including AED training, for coaches.

“Based on research conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute, one of the coalition founding partners, only seven states have all three of the life-saving policies that the coalition promotes,” says Ken Edmonds, NFL vice president of government affairs. “That means that 43 states across the country have to enact one or more of these life-saving policies in order to have all three in place.”

Since the coalition’s formation, the NFL has announced that it has expanded the SHSC to 26 member organizations, including the National Women’s Soccer League, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Women’s Tennis Association and the United States Tennis Association, among others.

A number of state governors have also taken action to enact one or more of the evidence-based policies proven to prevent death from sudden cardiac arrest. As of Sept. 28, those states include New Mexico, Kentucky and Indiana. In addition, the coalition has engaged with policymakers in more states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where hopes are legislatures will adopt these policies before the next school year’s athletic calendar begins.

Edmonds says it’s important to train as many people as possible in lifesaving CPR and AED use — from coaches to parents to students. “CPR and AED education is vital for students, as well as coaches,” he says. “Providing such instruction equips those in the school community with the know-how and confidence to respond immediately to cardiac emergency if and when it happens. Simply put, it helps to convert would-be bystanders into potential lay-responders.”

As part of the SHSC, the NFL Foundation launched its CPR Education Grant in June, making available $20,000 in funding to all 32 NFL clubs for CPR and AED education and equipment. This is the first step in providing more than $1 million to ensure high schools nationwide have proper training and equipment to respond to medical emergencies. The NFL also has partnered with the American Red Cross to offer both Hands-Only CPR education and certification opportunities across all league member (team) offices.

Edmonds says Hamlin’s injury and eventual recovery was a wake-up call that the NFL had expertise in emergency care that it needed to share. “Following Damar’s injury and recovery, the league strived to lean into and meet the moment and share what we do in the league – the foundational elements of an effective emergency response – so that others, especially younger generations of athletes and students, could benefit.”

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