House OKs bill on concussions, athletes’ safety

DENVER — Coaches would be required to know if a player is showing signs of a concussion, and must pull that athlete from play if they do, under a bill approved in the Colorado House on Monday.

Supporters of the measure say it is entirely a safety issue, but opponents said it only would open the door for schools and community sports programs to be sued.

The bill, which passed on a 35–27 bipartisan vote, would require young athletes who are pulled from participating in a sport to get written clearance from a doctor or other medical professional that they are healthy to play.

“This bill will actually equip those coaches to do the job that they’re committed to doing,” said Rep. Ken Summer, R-Lakewood.

“They realize that they’re there to not only instruct, but provide for the safety of the teams that they are working with.”

Despite claims to the contrary, Summers said the measure was not an unfunded mandate on public or private schools or community youth leagues.

Opponents said it’s good that coaches would be taught how to identify students showing signs of a concussion, but that it would be unfair to the programs themselves.

They said it would require them to have liability insurance in case a coach misses those signs and an athlete suffers more serious harm.

“There’s a reason trial lawyers are pushing this, because it opens up huge liabilities for these coaches and volunteers sitting on the sidelines,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan.

“Where do we stop it if this is where we’re starting? Are we going to start going toward heat strokes or repetitive injuries? This bill opens up the door for a lot of things.”

Becker and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the bill also could have the unintended consequence of scaring away volunteer coaches for fear of being sued.

Summer and Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who together introduced the measure, said the bill is needed because as many as 2,500 young athletes in Colorado visit hospital emergencies rooms for sports-related concussions each year, and it’s getting worse.

“The number of children treated in the outpatient concussion program at Children’s Hospital has risen steadily over the last three years at a rate of 32 percent per year,” Todd said.

“The bill is basically saying, ‘We want to make sure that your child is OK before making contact with another player.’ “

The measure heads to the Senate for a final vote before it can head to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.


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