CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With medical research indicating long-term ill effects and even premature deaths, the state Senate has weighed in on the controversy surrounding concussions suffered by athletes.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would require the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletics Commission to create formal rules for protecting children who suffer concussions during sporting events.
"We've got to make sure kids' health and safety is paramount and number one," Senate President Jeff Kessler said after the bill's passage.
Kessler, D-Marshall, worked with Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, and Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, to draft the bill this year.
He said the push to get more formal rules came after he received information late last year from Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the West Virginia University Department of Neurosurgery.
Bailes had been studying the effects of concussions on athletes and said researchers are finding many of them incurred significant neurological damage before they made it to the college and professional levels.
"He told me a lot of these kids are getting concussions at a young age and there's not adequate detection, prevention or assurances that they won't be put back on the playing field without jeopardizing their health," Kessler said.
The research by Bailes and other doctors have shown even minor concussions during the teenage years can have severe and cumulative effects later in life.
Kessler cited the cases of former Mountaineer and Cincinnati Bengal Chris Henry and former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster. Both died at relatively early ages in the last decade.
Autopsies concluded they suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition resulting from multiple blunt-force injuries to the head.
Kessler said doctors are seeing the delayed effects of minor concussions as professional athletes age.
"Once they reach my age of 56 or so and are no longer engaged (in sports), they start having memory loss, amnesia, early-onset dementia, which can be very significant.
"This bill is an attempt to make sure that people involved in high school and middle school athletics have the background and training to make sure the health and safety of our kids are primary," he said.