Concussions, now a primary concern of the National Football League, are also a topic in state capitols across America.
The New Mexico Senate voted 35-4 on Saturday to amend the state law on care of youth league and high school athletes who receive brain injuries. Players would be required to sit out at least 10 days after being diagnosed with a concussion. The current law is seven days.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, sponsored the measure. He said he was motivated to upgrade the state’s law because a running back at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho sued to play in the state championship game last fall after his coaches believed he had a concussion and planned to sit him down.
A judge, operating on incomplete medical information, ruled for the player. Heath Ridenour, Cleveland High’s coach, let his player suit up but put him in the game for only one harmless play.
Senators said the coach made the right call and praised him for protecting his player’s long-term health. They said Sanchez’s bill would create additional peer pressure so that kids with a head injury would not try to rush back onto the field or court.
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said as a parent, he appreciates the law and Sanchez’s attempt to make it stricter. Wirth said his daughter, a varsity volleyball player, objected to being sidelined after receiving a head injury.
“From the parent’s standpoint, being able to explain that this is what the law requires and have that pause helps,” Wirth said.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she once was concerned about nonscholastic athletic organizations facing state training requirements on how to deal with kids who may have a brain injury. But, Kernan said, she found that most organizations were already instructing their coaches on protocol for treating brain injuries.
Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, a coach in the Young America Football League, said his organization has three training sessions a year for coaches to help them identify brain injuries and keep players safe. Sanchez’s bill reinforces the importance of coaches being vigilant when a player receives a head injury, Sapien said.
Four Republicans voted against the bill. One of them, Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque, a former tackle for The University of New Mexico football team, said he wasn’t sure holding out a player for 10 days was the right solution, given that the medical research on treatment of brain injuries is fluid. Moores said the bill might have to be amended in a couple of years if a longer period is necessary.
Physicians who testified previously in support of Sanchez’s bill said they preferred a mandatory 14-day layoff for young athletes with a brain injury. They said the 10-day rule was a compromise.
Also voting against the bill were Sens. Lee Cotter of Las Cruces, Pat Woods of Broadview and Bill Sharer of Farmington.
Sanchez’s bill now advances to the House of Representatives.