New Concussion Law Reemphasizes Awareness, Education Push

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Concussions have always been an issue in football.

But they'll be weighing a little heavier on high school coaches when practice begins next week following the death of another NFL player, former Grand Valley State University quarterback Cullen Finnerty.

Autopsy reports Thursday showed Finnerty died in part because of the effects of repeated concussions which can bring on a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The fact that several NFL players who committed suicide were found to have CTE has led to new laws and more research into concussions.

It also has coaches, parents and athletes rethinking how they train and play, according to Al Slamer, the football coach at Holt High School.

"Parents, coaches, and players are all involved in this so I think that as we increase knowledge and we increase the education with this we'll keep our kids safer," Slamer said. "I think it's a great plan."

Slamer said Michigan's new concussion law reemphasizes what's been required by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the state's high schools since 2010, which is teaching safer and smarter playing techniques while increasing awareness.

"We're talking in terms of keeping heads up, contact with hands and shoulders and chests, and those types of things to keep the game safe," he said. "The key part is to involve the parents, to involve the players themselves, and to involve our coaches at all levels."

In light of the new law along with the deaths of several former NFL players and even the NFL's adoption of it's own comprehensive concussion policy, Dr. Sandra McCormick, a psychologist with the Origami Brain Rehabilitation Center in Mason, Mich., said the mentality amongst athletes and coaches is headed in the right direction.

"It's helping athletes to know what a concussion is and to accept that and not just brush it off," McCormick said. "It needs to be handled in a serious manner because accumulated concussions are devastating to the brain."

Whether sustaining repeated hits in practice or on the field, McCormick also said the best way to avoid traumatic injury or conditions like CTE is to give the brain enough time to heal between hits.

"If the brain has never been able to heal the first time, what you have then is this hurt brain going back in, suffering even more damage and that can be serious," she said.

McCormick added CTE changes the physical cells within the brain which means an individual with the disease can't be diagnosed for certain until after death when doctors are able to examine the brain tissues, although research into the disease and better diagnosis is ongoing.

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