WASHINGTON (AP) — A 16-year-old New Jersey girl who was forced to give up basketball because she suffered multiple concussions wants Congress to step in to reduce such injuries in youth sports.
Niki Popyer of Marlboro teamed up with two former NFL players in backing legislation calling on the federal government to develop concussion management guidelines. The bill would also establish a grant program to states to come up with ways to prevent, diagnose and treat sports-related concussions in schools.
She was joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by 13-year-old Abby Cahalan of Baltimore, who had to give up soccer after sustaining a concussion last year.
While most recent attention in sports concussions has been on the NFL, backers of the bill put a different face on the problem: female, young, school-aged.
"Concussions are not limited to the NFL, nor are they limited to football," Sen. Robert Menendez, who along with fellow New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell, is pushing the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act, or ConTACT Act.
Menendez cited a basketball player diving for a ball getting kneed in the head, or a baseball player getting beaned by a fastball.
Popyer said she suffered her first concussion in a basketball game in 7th grade, when she hit her head on the floor diving for a loose ball. She and her parents said that the first concussions were not diagnosed as such at the time; only when a neurologist reviewed the injuries were they able to get an accurate count. Popyer said that seven of the 11 concussions were sports-related, and that she’s become more concussion-prone in recent years.
"The headaches were always there," she said. "I just didn’t put them together with the accidents … I never acknowledged how I felt."
After her last sports concussion, she said, "I couldn’t stand lights or noise, I was dizzy and nauseous. That’s when the headaches got really bad and never went away."
In October, the House Judiciary Committee held a high-profile hearing on head injuries in football. Although the hearing was prompted by NFL injuries, several lawmakers talked up the impact on high school sports, and that attention could help give the Contact Act a boost in Congress.
"This is happening every day to our athletes, both young and old," said Pascrell, the co-founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. He talked up the bill’s funding for baseline and post-injury testing for student athletes.
The lawmakers and girls were joined by the NFL Players Association, which brought along two retired players: Tom Carter, who played cornerback for the Washington Redskins, among other teams, and Ernie Conwell, who played tight end for the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints.
Cahalan said she hasn’t done much since suffering her soccer concussion, after being a very active kid.
"This (bill) would help a lot of kids, and it would have helped me," she said.
Popyer, meanwhile, still goes to her team’s games and practices.
"I watch the girls I played with my entire life and it makes me so sad," she said.