New NJ law aims to protect student athletes

Posted Dec. 07, 2010, at 3:05 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 07, 2010, at 5:24 p.m.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey took action Tuesday aimed at protecting student athletes from brain injuries, as the problem gains attention among both professionals and amateurs.

Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that requires coaches to remove any player who shows signs of a concussion. Those students will need to be cleared by a doctor before they can compete again.

All public and private school districts in the state also will have to develop policies to handle head injuries.

In legislating the measure, New Jersey joins Washington state, which led the way last year in passing what’s considered the nation’s strongest return-to-play statute.

At least a half-dozen other states are now considering measures to toughen restrictions on young athletes returning to play after head injuries.

“This is not about someone not willing to play hard in whatever sport they’re in,” the governor said. “This is about protecting someone’s long-term health from being overwhelmed by the sense of competition we sometimes feel in our country.”

Christie signed the bill at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford. He was joined by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, New York Jets Chairman and CEO Woody Johnson, and several former New York Giants defensive players.

Goodell has written to governors across the country asking them to take action similar to Lystedt’s Law in Washington state. Zackery Lystedt, a Washington middle school football player, suffered brain damage in 2006 after he had a concussion and returned to the game.

Christie said the legislation lets children know that the first and most important job is to take care of themselves.

Christie said he hopes the message to student athletes is clear: “Above anything you do on the sports field, your first and most important job is to take care of yourself.”

Douglass Todd, who coaches the Randolph Bulldogs recreational football team, made up of seventh-graders, said he thinks the new law will prove helpful for both players and coaches. He said coaches can feel pressure from parents who want to see their kids play.

“It gives us a rule book to follow,” said Todd, who kept his team’s quarterback out for two weeks after a concussion this season. “At the youth level, we’re volunteers. We’re not professional coaches. So we don’t have a lot of medical training.”

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