March 1, 2011

Former NFL great backs Iowa concussion measure

Associated Press

DES MOINES — Former Iowa State and Minnesota Viking football player Matt Blair is lending his muscle to legislation pending in Iowa designed to protect young athletes from traumatic head injuries.

Blair and National Football League executive Kenneth Edmonds held a news conference Monday to back the measure, warning that competitive young athletes won’t voluntarily sit out of competition otherwise. Under the law, a student athlete suspected of having a concussion would be removed from competition until cleared by a medical professional. Parents and guardians would be required to sign a fact sheet about the dangers of concussions before a youngster could compete.

Blair, who played for 12 seasons with the Vikings, says he suffered two concussions but remained in games because of his competitive nature. He says student athletes shouldn’t take that chance. He suffered one concussion during a championship game and wasn’t about to sit out, he said.

“You think I’m going to come out of that game? No way,” said Blair. He said that experience motivates him to push protections for younger athletes.

Edmonds, director of government relations for the NFL, said the league is taking the issue of head injuries very seriously, and younger athletes should be protected, too.

“Today’s NFL players and coaches are better educated on the dangers of concussions and we believe young athletes — both male and female — should be better educated and protected,” said Edmonds.

To underscore their point, they brought in Tate Jensen, a ninth grade student athlete from Adel, who said he suffered a concussion two years ago playing football and was forced to sit out much of that season.

“I still wanted to play,” said Jensen. “It’s not fun sitting on the bench. If it was up to me, I probably would have gone back the next game.”

The legislation is being pushed by Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, who was a high school wrestling and football coach. He warned that young athletes can’t be trusted to protect their own health. Companion measures are awaiting debate by committees in the House and Senate.

“What this bill is going to do is protect Iowa student athletes,” said Bowman. “They want to do anything to get back in the game.”

Edmonds noted that in the last 20 months, nine states have enacted substantial legislation dealing with head injuries, and the NFL has been pushing states for such legislation. He said the NFL is pushing to have similar legislation in 10 more states this year.

“The NFL is changing the culture of football with relation to head injuries,” said Edmonds. “The league has strict return to play guidelines that apply to the best athletes in the world. We believe that a similar approach is necessary for some of the youngest athletes.”

Last May, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to 44 governors urging them to pass legislation similar to what was approved in Washington state, which passed legislation after a 2006 incident where a young athlete was injured after being returned to a middle school football game after suffering a concussion.