Politicians, Former Athletes Promote Safety in Youth Athletics

September 8, 2014 | Politics, Sports
Menendez, Pascrell and former NFL players gathered to promote the SAFE PLAY Act.

By Michael Hill

Former New York Jets running back Bruce Harper says he wishes there had been a SAFE PLAY Act back in the 70s and 80s.

Harper lives with the agony of a heart condition and three concussions from his playing days.

“I was knocked out and got back up and a few plays later came back in and played,” Harper said. “I have very serious heart issues and the team just passed me and let me go out and play.”

Those are the kinds of scenarios Sen. Bob Menedez and Congressman Bill Pascrell’s SAFE PLAY Act aims to prevent. The bill would require young athletes to be certified as fit to play sports and help schools have concussion management teams respond right away on campus.

“Nationally more than 1.3 million youth athletes are treated in an emergency room from an injury sustained playing sports,” Menendez said.

“And we don’t want to grow up a country of pansies. We want people playing out there in sports. But it’s outright stupid if you don’t protect yourself and your coaches don’t protect you and your parents don’t protect you,” said Pascrell.

Former Giants and Bucs lineman Roman Oben says he has two sons playing sports. He’s told them and these varsity players at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood how sports injuries used to be treated.

“Suck it up! And get back on the field no matter what but this is a language of the past,” he said.

Part of this quest for federal legislation targets sudden cardiac arrests.

“Research has shown that sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death on school property. Sports participation is associated with an increase risk of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes with an undiagnosed condition,” said Lisa Yue.

The legislation also takes aim at those high-energy, caffeine-loaded energy drinks and would direct the CDC to recommend the safe use of such consumption.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said, “When you have things that are unregulated and kids are taking a whole bunch of these energy drinks, it’s something we need to at least talk about and educate not only the kids but the trainers and coaches to make sure they’re looking out for that.”

The SAFE PLAY Act would take a comprehensive approach to keeping young athletes on and off the court and field and some call it just plain good common sense.

“I teach our athletes to be aware of what’s going on and how they feel, make staff aware of anything that may be bothering them,” said Athletic Trainer Andrea Pribula.

Harper says this attention paid to athletic health and safety is long overdue.

“I believe if this were out then I would not have put myself at risk to have more severe permanent damage,” Harper said.

Harper says he hopes today’s millions of young athletes listen.