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A Conflict of Authority in Sports Safety
Posted October 10, 2014
On Tuesday September 30, 2014 at 1:00 am CST the Athletic Director at the University of Michigan, David Brandon, following a player safety incident during the Michigan versus Minnesota football game, released a prepared statement apologizing for a “serious lack of communication” that allowed QB Shane Morris to return after having suffered a concussion. The circumstances of the incident have become a policy matter much more significant than the safety of the Michigan player. He suffered a mild concussion and should be fine. The political fallout will continue until policy catches up with the chaos of who is the authority in injury prevention and Return to Play in the competitive arena (with both games and practice).

The statement said; “after a detailed accounting of the events… Ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of our student athletes resides with each team’s coach and with me as Athletics Director.”  The incident has been followed by a major uproar from fans directed at the Athletics Director and the University President probably more upset with a losing coach than the health of QB Shane Morris who returned to play with an apparent concussion.

This statement is much broader than the incident because it will, in effect, resonate as a policy statement from the top executive at the largest sports organization in the country and from a major Medical education and research University. Compare this to the NFL concussion dilemma and there is substantially no difference; the trickle down of the NFL scrutiny has already reached community sports programs across the country. There is an emerging legal threat to individuals and organizations as sports authorities at every level. It is in the legal domain of liability and endangerment. And once a policy becomes a standard, like the policy issued by the University of Michigan, then grounds can be built for punitive action.

Prudent behavior to offset the legal risk will become the doctrine of sports administrative policy as evident by this incident. The policy enhancements at Michigan resulting from this incident were to ensure stronger medical oversight to determine the “medical fitness to participate” for its student-athletes at the cost of many new medical resources. What then does the Athletic Director at Reeltown (AL) High School in his small rural community do to affect his parents’ concerns for protecting their children? The Athletics Director at Reeltown is the Head Coach and, as David Brandon said, it is the coach that is responsible to mitigate the parents’ concerns.

Unfortunately, compassion is not enough for a coach to fulfill all that is expected from him today in the safeguarding of his players. Today the dynamics of coaching have exceeded the traditional knowledge of the profession. As Safe Kids Worldwide reported in its August 2014 study of youth sports injuries, there is a knowledge gap in the coach’s ability to meet the “trust to protect” expectation of parents. All sports coaches of both genders are under a new and intensifying scrutiny that will not wane and threatens to erode the ideal of coaching across all of sports in this country. Coaching education must become a standard to protect sports participation and all it benefits to a healthy society.
Until the federal government incentivizes states to regulate education for coaches in sports safety, discerning parents will grow ever more reluctant to trust the safety of their children to the coach of their team.
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Sports Are Not as Safe in the US
Posted August 11, 2014
It’s the beginning of August. Temperatures are at their highest. And every year, at this time, I get apprehensive. I know that a child is going to die somewhere , this month, from heat illness. It happened in while I was coaching at Auburn University. Gregg Pratt was running practices sprints on a hot August afternoon in 1983, when he collapsed and later died after attempts to revive him were unsuccessful . It happens (more than once) every August on a practice field in the United States, ty... [continue reading]
CoachSafely Partnership with NHMI's Safe Sports Network
Posted August 8, 2014
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Education-instead of helmets-to prevent concussions
Posted July 11, 2014
In an article titled Parents, players try to make sense of helmet products, USA Today calls out the unverifiable claims that football helmet manufacturers are making in the midst of the emerging NFL Concussion Crisis. Other than a general pass-fail rating from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) based on drop-test impacts, helmet manufactures lack strict certification requirements leading to the ability to craft vague claims about the effectiveness of th... [continue reading]
​Community Sports: Public Health Chaos
Posted June 24, 2014
The national culture of community sports, both scholastic (ages 15-18) and youth (ages 8-14), is entering into a state of crisis that risks the same fate as college and professional sports who are in the hot seat for not safeguarding their athletes against common injuries. These stories of entertainment subsidized athletes suffering serious long-term effects of sports injuries are sending a health risk message to schools and parks in every community. Boys and girls in these communities are affec... [continue reading]
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