Back in January, Florida was ahead of the curve on an important national issue. Yes, you read that right.
That's when a bill designed to protect youth athletes from concussion passed the Florida House. The new law would require kids who had suffered a suspect head injury to be taken out of play pending clearance from a medical professional. The bill had a sympathetic ambassador in a local high school student-- Ransom Everglade's David Goldstein-- who had been crippled for months by headaches stemming from multiple concussions. Goldstein had even successfully led fund-raisers to pay for pricey concussion tests for every public school in the county.
So who can argue with a bill that makes young students safe from serious injury or death? Meet state senator Dennis Jones, Republican from Treasure Island.
Jones is a working chiropractor. He insisted on amending the bill, when it hit the senate floor, to include chiropractors among the listed "medical professionals". The House refused to vote on the amended bill, and it died on the House floor.
Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), who introduced the bill, says she is "disappointed that this important piece of legislation failed due to the political in-fighting between medical doctors and other medical professionals. We now have one more year where children may be told to 'walk it off' and go back to play, putting their health at risk," she adds. "This is unacceptable."
"No bill is better than a bad bill," Jones tells Riptide unapologetically. "As chiropractors, we've been treating head injuries since 1931. The symptoms of a concussion are not that difficult to diagnose."
After working with colleagues in Village Voice Media in a national investigation of concussions in youth sports-- which will be published in papers across the chain this week-- it's impossible not to dispute that last claim. Throughout the country, the treatment of head trauma in young athletes has been defined by ignorance.
In New Jersey, high school football player Ryne Dougherty died after being sent out to play despite having apparently not recovered from a previous concussion. His family's lawyer claims that a school trainer ignored a medical test in which Dougherty complained of "fogginess" and struggled with simple memory and cognitive functions.
The same sort of tragic stories-- where student athletes played through head trauma, making themselves more vulnerable to catastrophic damage-- have played out in most every city in America. No matter what Sen. Jones claims, the understanding of concussions is still an evolving science.
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What's clear is the peril isn't limited to professional athletes who have arguably struck a Faustian bargain with the risk.
Florida is now lagging behind 28 states that have passed youth concussion bills. Sen. Flores promises to file the failed bill again in the next legislature.
We'll see if Jones kills it again because it doesn't pay proper respect to chiropractors.