The setting was Lincoln Financial Field on Tuesday morning as the Eagles partnered with State Representative Tim Briggs for a press conference discussing Briggs' legislation, H.B. 2060, that takes direct aim at the management of concussion care for kids participating in youth sports across the state of Pennsylvania.
On hand was Eagles head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, who certainly knows a thing or two about concussions. And while the topic wasn't directly Eagles-related, you need to understand the big picture here: Concussions are a serious topic at every level of sports, and more rigid guidelines are needed to usher players back onto the field after they suffer brain injuries.
"This subject is something that is close to my heart. I'm overjoyed that the Philadelphia Eagles, particularly Jeffrey Lurie, Christina Lurie and Joe Banner have gotten on board with the Representative's bill," said Burkholder. "As one of 32 head athletic trainers in the National Football League, we've all been aware of the concussion situation and we feel responsible for the public's opinion and some of the grass-roots efforts that are going on in this country. As one of those 32 men that head up the medical staffs of the teams in the league, I feel that this is a very important matter to us as an NFL entity."
Burkholder is a leader in the business, a keynote speaker on the subject, and well-versed with 23 years in the business after suffering three concussions in his high school and college soccer career. His experiences with Brian Westbrook, for example, are one end of the spectrum. Those kinds of cases are the ones you read about in the NFL. But there are so many others -- an estimated 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States every year, and the estimated annual number in Pennsylvania is 156,000.
Along with Briggs and Burkholder, the speakers on Tuesday included former high school basketball and track star Tracy Yatsko, who suffered a concussion in 11th grade in a basketball game and is still wracked by devastating pain and suffering five years later, and Upper Merion senior John Gonoude, who suffered a concussion in his sophomore season and came back too early, and never was able to overcome the impact of the brain trauma.
Both Yatsko and Gonoude displayed marvelous poise and maturity discussing their experiences, and both have devoted themselves to helping others. Briggs, of course, hopes his legislation is passed later this month. If that's the case, and all signs point to a positive outcome, H.B. 2060 would require that if a player is suspected of sustaining a concussion or brain injury, the player could not return to play unless cleared by a licensed health care provider. Additionally, this measure would require a student and the parent or guardian to annually sign a concussion and head injury information sheet prior to the student's participation in practice or competition. Briggs believes this is the most important part of the bill, as it helps increase awareness about the seriousness of brain injuries.
"A concussion is not something to be taken lightly," said Banner. "They can have lasting effects for student athletes well into adulthood if not properly addressed. I am proud to join Representative Briggs in support of H.B. 2060. Concussions are serious and everyone in the sports community needs to treat them that way."
The Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers have supported H.B. 2060. Recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent letters to governors across the nation urging them to support similar bills. Philadelphia professional teams -- Flyers, Phillies and 76ers -- as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates have also supported the bill.
The bill, expected to go to vote later this month, is modeled after the Zackery Lystedt Law, a Washington State bill that was signed into law last year.
Burkholder has long been involved in reaching out to local high schools to help develop strict guidelines for the treatment of concussions. Too often kids are rushed back onto the field before they have passed rigid testing, and the results can be disastrous. The goal of this bill is to give kids a longer period of time to recovery from concussions and brain injuries.
"High school kids and college kids need a longer time to recover than the pros do," said Burkholder. "I think we are inverted in our health care. I have six certified athletic trainers that cover 53 players in the NFL. My dad (a high school athletic trainer) has two athletic trainers to cover something like over 1,800 student athletes at the high school."
Recovery from a concussion takes 7 to 14 days, and sometimes longer. The days of an athlete saying, "I'm fine," and then playing right away after suffering a traumatic injury, could be ending soon. And that is a good thing for every parent, athlete and coach on every level.