While Lauren Long was playing soccer as a youth in Oklahoma City and in college in Kansas City, she suffered one documented concussion — and that was her senior year in college.
“However,” she said, “knowing what we know now and finally hearing this word ‘concussion’ and what it actually meant, doctors and I both agree that somewhere between 10 and 15 concussions is what I suffered.”
That inspired Long to co-found Concussion Connection, where she has become a tireless advocate for concussion education, awareness and support, and one of the driving forces behind Oklahoma’s House Bill 2760.
HB2760 last week passed the Oklahoma House (65-26) and will soon be heard in the Senate.
“Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Broken Arrow) did a fantastic job of talking to other representatives whenever it was on the House floor, so we’re real excited,” Long said in an interview on The Franchise Tulsa last week. “We’ve got a lot of momentum in our favor.”
Oklahoma was one of the first states to introduce concussion legislation to protect young athletes back in 2010. But Long said it has been one of the last states to update its original law. It’s 2016 and concussion research and education has advanced, but Oklahoma athletes are still under the outdated protections of 2010.
“It’s interesting in my visits to the capital and discussions with people how little people, even legislators, know what the original bill provides,” said University of Tulsa professor Ron Walker. “A lot of the negative feedback we’ve had regards some things that are already law.”
Walker is director of the athletic training program and coordinator of clinical education at TU, and he was president of the Oklahoma Athletic Trainers Association when the original law was passed in 2010. He has remained active in getting the legislation updated.
A similar bill was defeated in 2014, so the Long and the OATA and others have been trying to find the ideal language for a revision while also educating the legislators on why it’s so important.
HB2760 seeks protection and treatment for athletes beyond those who participate in the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, which is who the existing law protects. That includes every athlete age 13 and up in both public and private organizations, from high school to club sports to church leagues.
The original law seeks mainly to educate student-athletes and their families and coaches, requires removal from play of an athlete who displays symptoms of concussion, and requires written clearance from a licensed health care professional before returning to the field of play.
The new bill broadens education and training efforts to include referees (and even includes punitive measures for violators), but also emphasizes return-to-play and return-to-learn protocols to help students transition not only back onto the field but also into the classroom.
“Right now, the general concussion legislation education is focused on coaches, parents and athletes,” Long said. “But if we’re going to focus on the holistic approach, we have to bring teachers, counselors and principals into the discussion to ensure we’re treating the whole student-athlete and not just the athlete.”
In a state strapped for education cash, the roadblock continues to be funding. But that’s been addressed in HB2760, too, Walker said.
“This is a completely budget-neutral bill,” he said.
“The officials, the training that we’re asking for the state to require, is a 30- to 45-minute session that is free, provided by the CDC, and all you need is Internet access and a computer,” Walker said. “And if you don’t have that, you can obviously get that in any public library. And you can print this: you can come to my office and use my computer to do this, or any of our computers at the University of Tulsa. That is simply, in this day and age, not an excuse.”
Long played soccer for 14 years before her final concussion ended her career. The problems she deals with daily — “this nine-year battle of going through the effects of what is post-concussion syndrome,” she calls it — are what motivate her.
“Dealing with the migraines, the impulse control, the lack of concentration, I get easily distracted, short-term memory loss — all these things that you hear about, I do deal with,” Long said. “But my driving force behind doing what I’m doing and working with the OATA … I don’t want someone else to have to go through this because they weren’t educated and weren’t aware of the dangers that concussions pose.
“The chances of me kind of getting better and back to my baseline, if you will, (are) very minimal because of the … concussions that weren’t treated throughout my career. But I’m not gonna let that stop me from trying to protect other athletes and educating parents and coaches and officials across the state of Oklahoma.”