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Enhanced concussion rules great step

After a particularly bad weekend for head injuries on the football field, Monday’s announcement by Texas’ University Interscholastic League regarding head injuries seems reasonable.

The UIL, which governs extracurricular activities at Texas public schools, announced that any athlete who suffers a head injury cannot return to the activity on the same day, and must be cleared by a licensed medical professional before taking part in the activity again.

Previously, the league allowed coaches to reinstate a player who showed no ill effects 15 minutes after the injury. The changes follow recommendations made by the National Federation of State High School Associations, and also eliminate ranking of head injuries by severity.

In New Mexico, similar rules were already in place. Coaches are required to remove players from a game when they exhibit signs of a concussion. Once removed, the player may not return for at least seven days and must have permission from a doctor.

Robert Zayas, associate director for New Mexico Activities Association, which governs New Mexico high school sports, said coaches are required to complete an online course so they can recognize signs of a concussion.

UIL’s decree — along with NMAA standards — might irk some athletes, coaches and even parents, especially if it affects a key player. At the middle and high school levels, one good player could carry a team to victory, since talent and ability can vary greatly from one player to the next.

Young players whose bodies are still developing, however, are most vulnerable to severe injury, especially those to the head. Research has shown that concussions — essentially bruises to the brain — do permanent damage, no matter how minor they might seem. Every subsequent injury compounds the damage. Many football greats, including Dallas legends Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, were pushed into retirement because of repeated concussions, not a loss of skills.

The UIL and NMAA rules are not perfect. Coaches, not trained medical professionals, may still make judgment calls as to whether a player has suffered a head injury.

Coaches normally can be expected to have their athletes’ overall health in mind, but they generally aren’t trained to make definitive examinations of a player who’s taken a hard blow to the head. A coach’s cursory evaluation might not catch latent signs of injury. Besides, a coach might feel pressure to reinstate a key player in a tight game, if the player insists he can play.

But awareness is a great step toward better ensuring that students don’t sacrifice their future health in order to enjoy a few minutes of glory on the field.