New Massachusetts concussion law gives coaches a big headache

Cameron Smith
August 25, 2010

When the state legislature recently enacted a law requiring anyone involved in Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association activities to go through a head-injury safety training program, the move was cheered as a victory for concussion prevention. Ironically, all it's caused so far are serious headaches.

As first pointed out in a piece by Boston Globe high school sports editor Bob Holmes, the law will require anyone involved (coaches, parents, etc.) in any extracurricular "athletic activity" at an MIAA school -- and yes, that includes marching bands -- to go through the MIAA's full head-injury safety training program.

The problem comes with the law's implementation. According to the legislation, that head-injury safety program has to be completed by Sept. 1. And here's the problem with that deadline: The training program doesn't even exist yet.

"We're stuck in the middle here because there's a law,'' Concord-Carlisle athletic director Barry Haley told The Globe. "How do we get involved in the discussion that many of the things in this legislation just don't work?''

While coaches across the state are scrambling to figure out what to do, the man responsible for enforcing the program is taking a more relaxed approach. Here's what he told The Globe:

The answer seems to have come from Lewis Howe, the injury prevention coordinator at the Department of Public Health, according to the department's website. Howe has been charged with enacting the legislation, and according to (MIAA deputy director Bill) Gaine, in an Aug. 11 meeting, Howe reacted to Gaine's question about delaying implementation of the law (Jan. 1 was a suggested date) by telling Gaine not to worry about the Sept. 1 deadline.

Hey, at least Howe has logic on his side. After all, it's pretty hard to comply with a new program when the program doesn't even exist. Still, given the layers of bureaucracy typical in all state programs, the MIAA is pushing to officially delay the program's implementation.

In one way, it's hard to fault the MIAA for trying to push through a delay. At least if it know everyone needs to be trained by January, it can have four months to get the program developed and implemented. On the other hand, if the man who is in charge of policing the whole shindig is openly telling them not to worry about it, what, exactly, are Gaine and Co. worried about?

Neither solution is a good one, which only makes the entire situation a bigger snafu. All of which proves that even in high school sports, good intentions often breed the biggest problems.