By a vote of 74-16, the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1164, which updates the state’s original 2010 sports concussion law.
“We’re excited about that,” said Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Broken Arrow), co-author of the bill with Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie). “All that’s left is for the governor to sign it, and I’m hopeful that she will.”
If Gov. Mary Fallin signs the bill, it goes into law Nov. 1.
“This one we’ve been working on for quite some time,” Kirby told The Franchise on Tuesday. “It started back a few years ago when we first got our start in concussion legislation, and this is kind of a build on top of that, updating and doing a few other things. We’re excited.”
The bill ensures that secondary school-age athletes who exhibit symptoms or signs of a concussion are:
1, removed from play,
2, not allowed to return to competition until evaluated and authorized in writing by a health care professional,
3, if diagnosed with a concussion, prescribed a graduated, stepwise return-to-play protocol,
4, if diagnosed with a concussion, prescribed a similarly graduated return-to-learn protocol to ease young athletes back into academic work.
SB1164 includes additional educational requirements for coaches, game officials and school officials, and mandates that those individuals remove from play an athlete who exhibits concussion symptoms.
The bill makes the State Department of Health create a concussion management section on its website to provide necessary guidelines for individual school districts and youth sports organizations (including recreational leagues and church leagues) to develop their own policies, and it mandates that those schools and organizations do so.
SB1164 also adds penalties for coaches, game officials and/or administrators for ignoring the law. They’ll get additional concussion recognition and management education after the first offense, and a suspension from the sport (until appearing before his or her respective governing board) after subsequent offenses.
“We didn’t get a whole lot of pushback from the schools as much as we did, believe it or not, from smaller organizations that didn’t understand who we were targeting, like churches and church organizations,” Kirby said. “Churches actually pushed back more than anyone, and some of the individual coaches and referees and things like that.
“We could have gone further, but we think we got pretty much what we wanted in that, basically, all along, this was just an education piece. We were trying to get coaches, volunteers, officials to just go out — like they do now when coaches do their, I guess, continuing ed-type training — they’re gonna do this anyway. It’s free. It’s on the Oklahoma Health Department website. Doesn’t cost anyone anything. Just go out there, look at the information and familiarize yourself with it so you can recognize and signs and symptoms of concussions.”
Oklahoma City native Lauren Long, co-founder of the advocacy group Concussion Connection, was instrumental in helping Kirby and Griffin educate lawmakers and their constituents, as were athletic trainers from across the state. Griffin and Kirby were recognized by the Oklahoma Athletic Trainers Association for their efforts during last Saturday’s annual OATA Hall of Fame banquet at the University of Central Oklahoma, at which national concussion advocate Chris Nowinski was keynote speaker.
Long, a former college soccer player who suffered multiple concussions and still endures symptoms at age 30, posted on her Facebook page, “Oklahoma has now joined the rest of the country in 2016 by passing updated concussion legislation to further protect our young athletes across this beautiful state!”
“We had a lot of help with this,” Kirby said.
“We’re elated. A lot of people have been working on this for a long time … I mean, we played back in the day with not a whole lot of protection, as you know, and now we add another layer of some information and education that can help young players not have to go through what some of the others had to go through in the past. So we’re happy about that.”