Tennessee put a new law, 'Chapter 148', into effect January 1 to protect young athletes. Thursday, Sullivan County schools are reviewing their policies to make sure they comply.
The hits that get the most cheers are often the most dangerous; they can cause instant harm to a developing brain that can get worse if undiagnosed.
It's a problem that Chapter 148 aims to stop.
Alisa Hearl is the school health services supervisor for Sullivan County Schools. Part of her job is making sure the new requirements are in place. "You end up with students who have multiple head injuries, and it affects their brain and their function later in life. We really just need to keep our student athletes safe," she told us.
Fran Perry, who has two sons dealing with concussions, says that education is comforting. "It's always hard to know what to do. It gives you guidelines. It's very helpful," she told us.
148 also requires any athlete who appears to have a concussion be pulled from competition or practice. Dr. Matthew Wood, a neurosurgeon, says that while a hit might not seem like a big deal, "Each consecutive concussion builds on the first big deal."
"Once you're bonked, I can't go in an unbonk you," Dr. Wood said. "I don't have an operation that will unbonk your brain."
The last part of the new law could be the most important -- any athlete with a concussion must be cleared by a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathic medicine, or clinical neuropsychologist before returning to play.
Dr. Wood says this is a step in the right direction. "Head injuries don't get better overnight. They can take weeks or even months to heal, and it is important that everyone in the process be honest, especially the athlete," he said.
The new law doesn't just cover student athletes; Chapter 148 covers recreational sports leagues as well.
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