Mark Tauscher backs bill designed to reduce youth concussions

MADISON (AP) -- Longtime Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher joined high school athletes, doctors and state lawmakers on Wednesday to push the Wisconsin Legislature to pass legislation designed to reduce concussions in youth sports.

The National Football League has been lobbying Wisconsin and 18 other states that have yet to adopt laws requiring that young athletes be immediately removed from their activity if they appear to be suffering from a head injury. In January, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NCAA President Mark Emmert sent letters to the states' governors calling for passage of the laws.

To help make the case, former NFL players have been speaking out in support of similar laws across the country. Tauscher joined in Wednesday, saying awareness of the dangers posed by concussions has increased over the years, but more needs to be done.

Tauscher, 34, grew up in Wisconsin, played football for the University of Wisconsin and was drafted by the Packers in 2000 and played for 11 years before being released in 2011. He said there used to be a stigma attached to players who were viewed as not being tough if they didn't shake off a big hit.

"We, as players, have never understood the consequences of what's going on," Tauscher said at the Capitol news conference.

After suffering at least 10 concussions over three years, Richland Center High School senior Brock Rosenkranz said he was forced to stop playing football and basketball. He talked about his headaches, memory loss, depression and insomnia, and the medication he now takes to deal with his symptoms.

"People just don't really get this problem," he said, adding that he wants to help others understand the importance of the issue.

The Wisconsin bill is modeled after Washington state's 2009 "Zackery Lystedt Law," named for a middle school football player who sustained brain damage after he suffered a concussion and returned to play.

The bipartisan proposal easily passed the Wisconsin Assembly but has stalled in the Senate, where some Republicans expressed concern about placing new mandates on school districts.

The bill would require young athletes who suffer what appears to be a concussion or head injury to be immediately removed from practice or games, and not be allowed to return until examined by a health care provider and given written clearance.

The proposal would also require the state Department of Public Instruction, in conjunction with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, to develop guidelines and other information to educate coaches, athletes and parents about the risk of concussions and head injuries.

One alternative proposal circulated among Republican senators would give schools the option to develop policies, but they would not be required to do so. Student athletes also wouldn't be forced to leave the playing field after suffering an injury.

The original bill's sponsor, River Hills Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, said the mandate was necessary to protect children and teens. She said Wisconsin residents should contact their local lawmakers and urge them to pass the bill before the session ends in mid-March.

Concussions are caused by a hard blow to the head. The injury can affect memory, judgment, reflexes, speech, balance and muscle coordination, and the symptoms become worse if not properly treated. Young people, particularly girls, are more susceptible to long-term repercussions than adults.

The number of athletic children going to hospitals with concussions increase 60 percent in the past decade, according to a study released in October by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has reported that athletic activities lead to nearly 4 million concussions a year.

USA Football last week announced it was commissioning a full-season research study to examine player health and safety in organized youth tackle football. USA Football is the official youth football development partner of the NFL, the NFL Players Association and each of the league's 32 teams, as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Reducing concussions both in the NFL and in youth sports is a priority of the league, NFL lobbyist Kenneth Edmonds said Wednesday.

A federal judge in Philadelphia last month consolidated four lawsuits blaming the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain disease. The lawsuits represent more than 300 retired players or spouses, including two-time Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon.

The NFL has disputed claims of wrongdoing made in the lawsuits.

In November, Green Bay Packers great Forrest Gregg disclosed that he was fighting Parkinson's disease and he and his neurologist believe it may be related to numerous concussions he suffered during his nearly two-decade long playing career.

In addition to the NFL and the Packers, other supporters of the Wisconsin bill include the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and other health care groups.