Football players in Texas need state protection

Photo by Courtesy, Texas A&M Athletics

As football season begins again this fall, there is much to celebrate: sporting victories for young athletes and Frito pies for visitors and fans in the stands. However, the beginning of football season also reminds us of the risks of concussion for our high school athletes.

Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, is a major cause of disability and even death for young athletes. As it turns out, research published last year indicates that for teenagers, the risk of concussion is larger than we once thought. That study estimated that at least 1 in 5 adolescents in the United States had sustained at least one concussion in their lifetime. These could be due to car accidents or falls, but overwhelmingly, concussions in teenagers result from sport-related injuries. Teens who play high-risk contact sports like football and soccer are at greater risk of sustaining concussions.

Chances are, the symptoms of a concussion — like headaches, sensitivity to light and loud noise and difficulty concentrating — will go away with adequate rest. However, research in the past decade indicates that for some people with concussions, these symptoms, and new ones like depression and anxiety, can persist for months to years. Returning to play before the brain has completely healed is a major risk factor for worse and longer-lasting symptoms.

This month, Iowa became the seventh state in the country to offer supplemental insurance for high school students to ensure that young athletes get the care they need to recover from concussions. It costs students and their families nothing, and there is no co-pay for a concussion assessment with a doctor or any necessary follow-up treatments. Programs in other states have charged $5 per year for the supplemental insurance.

Texas high school athletes could benefit from a similar program, which would give all students access to concussion-related care, regardless of the ability of their families to pay. It would  ensure their ability to return to sports in the short-term, but also to live full and healthy lives as adults. Our Texas high school athletes deserve the same level of care as students in those other states.

Texas has the greatest number of high school student-athletes of anywhere in the country. Texas adopted a pilot program for some schools to test out the program in 2013, but no proposals have been made to continue or expand it. As football season begins again for our young athletes, I am again reminded of the enjoyment of the sport, but also the high rates of head injury for high school athletes in high-contact activities.

I ask our state Legislature to consider implementing a comprehensive program to provide low-cost insurance options for student-athletes. Paired with our recently updated return to play protocols, our athletes will excel on the field with adequate support from their families and medical staff, regardless of their ability to pay for medical treatment. Let’s allow our athletes to preserve their futures by avoiding concussions, but also managing them responsibly when they occur. The health of our future generation of athletes and community members is at stake.

Emily Fisher

Medical student