Stronger concussion laws could be coming for Indiana athletes

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Some big changes could be in store for youth athletes across Indiana, as lawmakers debate whether to expand the state’s youth concussions laws.

Members of the Senate Health and Provider Services committee heard testimony Wednesday. State Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) drafted the bill.

“What are we waiting for?” Hank Feuer asked the committee, a retired neurosurgeon who works with the Indianapolis Colts. “We know that something's happening. We don't know at what ages it really gets going in the brain."

Current law applies to high school students, requiring athletes be cleared by a doctor before being able to play again. The new proposal would expand that to begin in 5th grade. It would also add cheerleading to the requirements and require all athletic coaches receive concussion training.

“I’m very discouraged by the fact that they’re not taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, with younger athletes,” Michael Duerson said, founder of the Dave Duerson Athletic Safety Fund, Inc.

Former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson committed suicide after suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. After retirement, he said concussions caused mental health problems.

Michael Duerson, Dave’s brother, suffers the lingering effects of a college concussion, too, and now advocates for stronger laws.

"We know that athletes with severe traumatic brain injury don't always kill themselves, but we die slowly, which is my experience,” Duerson said.

In a five month period last year, the Indiana High School Athletic Association said more than 1,200 concussions were reported from school districts statewide.

In Muncie, during the past two years, school officials reported 150 in that district alone.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” Robert Warrner said, a longtime teacher and school board president. “We’re seeing seven times as many concussions as we thought we would. That’s a huge number.”

Committee members didn’t vote on the proposal today.

Some concerns remain over logistics, implementations and what it would mean for coaches.