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Holloway: GHSA yields to the sidelines on concussions

Onus of player safety on coaches, trainers

POSTED: October 21, 2010 10:12 p.m.

Say this for the Georgia High School Associaton: at least it realizes the limitations of its own powers. It can’t fix everything and it knows it.

While the furor surrounding concussions has led to congressional hearings, massive NFL fines and possible suspensions, and increased regulations even at the high school level, Georgia’s governing body of prep sports is taking a more hands-off approach.

That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s not. It’s the right idea.

Understand, the problem of head injuries is not being ignored. As GHSA assistant executive director Gary Phillips said, the days when a knock on head was dismissed with “he just got dinged or he just got his bell rung,” are long gone.

“You have to err on the side of caution,” Phillips said.

In an effort to ensure high school athletes are not rushed back onto the field after a concussion, states around the country are enacting more stringent return-to-play rules. Just this week Texas passed a rule requiring athletes demonstrating symptoms of a concussion to sit out of games and practices for a full day.

Phillips said the GHSA has looked into similar statutes, but has determined, on the advice of legal counsel, the best course of action is to educate the coaches and then stay out of the way.

One could argue that’s the easy way out.

I’d say it’s pragmatic; especially when the alternative would involve a logistical nightmare, gobs of paperwork and regulation from afar.

So instead of legislating top-down from Thomaston, the GHSA has put the power — and the onus of safety — on the sidelines, in the hands of those who interact directly with the athletes and who are ultimately responsible for who plays and who doesn’t.

Once upon a time that meant the responsibility fell to the coaches who are often saddled with a win-at-all-costs reputation.

But there’s a better understanding of the serious nature of concussions now than there was just a few years ago. That’s due to greater awareness of the problem, and, at least in part, to the kind of educational efforts
GHSA has made its primary focus.

No one wants to see a kid seriously injured by multiple head injures or because a concussion was brushed off.

And no coach or school system wants to be held responsible for such an injury in a court of law.

Thankfully for everybody involved, coaches don’t make that call anymore.

“Every school that I know of has a certified trainer either on staff or at the game,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “And most of us have doctors that are there.

“I like the way it’s handled, because our doctors make the decision. They tell me if a player can go or if he needs to come out, and with everything that’s been going on with concussions, safety comes first.”

There’s still room for improvement though. Right now, coaches are encouraged by the GHSA, but not required, to take part in an online course that aims to help them recognize the symptoms and manage the aftermath of a concussion.

More and better-trained eyes watchful for concussion symptoms would be helpful.

But as a rule, the GHSA has taken the correct steps by butting out and letting the schools and coaches take care of their own.

Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.



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