AUGUSTA, Maine — Saying the days of winning one for the Gipper are over, Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett came to Maine’s Capitol on Wednesday to champion a bill addressing a growing concern from school sport fields to the National Football League: head injuries.
The former New England Patriots star linebacker joined others at a State House news conference to pitch a bill to give school districts across Maine a uniform protocol to manage head injuries suffered by athletes.
The state Education Department would have to adopt a policy for all schools to remove from practices and games any student suspected of having suffered a head injury until written clearance from a licensed neurologist or athletic trainer stating that the student is free of symptoms of a head injury. The policy acknowledges the potential to cause more harm if athletes with head injuries aren’t benched immediately.
“It seems like the more we know about concussions, the less we know about them, [and that's] especially true with young people,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Donald Pilon, D-Saco.
Tippett, who spent his entire 12-year career with the Patriots and is now the Super Bowl-bound team’s executive director of community affairs, said that educating coaches, athletes and their parents about properly managing head injuries, including medical treatment, is the key.
“I think what we’re trying to do here in Maine [is to] educate our families, players and coaches, make everybody accountable for the well-being and health of our young kids,” he said.
“We’re not trying to be tough guys because that’s what the sport calls for — when you’re injured you go out and you play and you take one for the Gipper,” Tippett said, a reference to Notre Dame football legend George Gipp, who upon his deathbed reportedly asked his former coach to use his memory to rally the team to victory.
Maine would become the latest of about 30 states to address head injuries, Pilon said. New York and Colorado are among the states with laws to protect student athletes from brain injuries, and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to develop national guidelines for managing sports-related concussions.
The CDC says emergency room visits by children and adolescents for concussions increased by 60 percent in the past decade. Each year, emergency departments treat more than 173,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries.
The medical director and team physician at Colby College in Waterville, Dr. Paul Berkner, said more is being learned every day about concussions.
“When there’s any question about a student having a concussion, that student needs to be removed, because what we now know is that every concussion is significant,” said Berkner, who also leads the Maine Concussion Management Initiative. “The second thing we know is that the most minor concussion is the most significant concussion.”
Maine’s proposed action has the endorsement of the NFL, said David Krichavsky, director of community affairs for the league.
“NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made player health and safety his No. 1 priority, and that extends not just to the terrific athletes you see on the NFL playing fields on Sunday or Monday nights, but that extends to youth athletes of all ages, both sexes, and all sports,” Krichavsky said.
Still, there appears to be some reluctance by pro athletes to become restricted to the sidelines after a head injury. In December, 23 of 44 NFL players interviewed by The Associated Press about head injuries said they would try to conceal a possible concussion rather than pull themselves out of a game.