March 16, 2011

Udall, Pascrell Introduce Legislation Requiring Stronger Standards for Youth Football Helmets

Bill Would Help Protect Young Athletes from Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) today marked Brain Injury Awareness Day by introducing bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting youth athletes from the dangers of sports-related traumatic brain injuries.

The Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act would ensure that new and reconditioned football helmets for high school and younger players meet safety standards that address concussion risk and the needs of youth athletes. The bill also increases potential penalties for using false injury prevention claims to sell helmets and other sports equipment.

Original cosponsors of the bill also include Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), as well as Representatives Todd Russell Platts (R-PA-19) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9). Platts, along with Pascrell, is co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.

"Today, football faces a crisis - a brain injury epidemic that affects our country's 4.5 million youth and high school football players," said Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees consumer product safety and sports issues. "While there will always be some risk of injury, we must make sure that athletes, coaches, and parents know about the dangers and signs of concussion. We must also make sure that they are usingsafe equipment. And we must take any false advertising out of the game. This bill is an important step in that direction."

"We want our children to be active and athletic, but in the safest possible circumstances right down to the helmets they put on their heads," said Pascrell, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "This bill is the logical next step in Congress' effort to protect our young athletes from brain injuries. In September, the House passed the ConTACT Act, which is legislation focused on what we should do after a young athlete sustains a concussion. Now, we are advancing a bill that makes sure we all do the right thing to help prevent our children from sustaining brain injuries in the first place."

Although football helmet safety technology has improved since the days of leather helmets, today's helmet safety standards may not be informed by current understanding of concussion risks. For example, the current industry standard primarily protects against serious injury from a severe, direct blow. However, it does not specifically address the risk of a concussion caused by less severe impacts or by rotational acceleration resulting from hits that spin the head and brain. The standard for reconditioning used football helmets also does not specify how often old helmets must be recertified.

The Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act sets a deadline, nine months after enactment, for improvements by industry groups to the voluntary standard for football helmets. If that deadline is not met, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) must setmandatory football helmet standards to protect children's safety.

Sports are the second leading cause of traumatic brain injury for people who are 15 to 24 years old, behind only motor vehicle crashes. Every year American athletes suffer up to an estimated 3.8 million sports-related concussions. More than one million American high school students play football, including nearly 8,000high school students in New Mexico.

The bill's introduction comes two months after Udall called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of potentially false and misleading concussion safety claims in advertising for football helmets, specifically those sold for use by young children. Udall also asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) last December to investigate the adequacy of voluntary helmet safety standards for addressing concussion risk to football players.

Pascrell has been raising awareness of traumatic brain injury dangers and treatments for 14 years. That includes the passage last September of his Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act, which provides for national protocols to be established for managing sports-related concussions.

The NFL Players Association is among 10 organizations and high-profile individuals that have already endorsed the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act.

"Not only is the NFLPA committed to the safety of professional football players, but to all who play the sport. We recognize a significant portion of those players are youth and high school athletes who are currently at risk for traumatic brain injury due to the absence of helmet safety standards," said NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. "We support the Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act as introduced and commend you for addressing this issue."

Other supporters include: Brain Injury Association of America; Brain Trauma Foundation; Cleveland Clinic; Consumer Federation of America; Consumers Union; National ConsumersLeague; National Research Center for Women & Families; Nick Lowery, Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame; and Safe Kids USA.

"From my 18 years as a professional football player, I know firsthand the risk of injury - especially brain injury. When I played football, ... suffering a concussion was often shrugged off as merely having your ‘bell rung.' We now know that multiple concussions can lead to lasting brain damage and should be treated as a serious matter," Lowery said. "Improving sports safety for kids and discouraging sports equipment companies from making false injury prevention claims are two straightforward ways to reduce braininjuries. You can count on my enthusiastic support for this important children's safety and consumer protection legislation."

Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act