Protecting Young Athletes from Concussion – Rowan’s Law is enacted

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on April 01, 2018

In March, the Ontario Government announced that ‘Concussion Safety’ legislation, Bill 193, was finally enacted. This legislation is commonly known as Rowan’s Law, in honour of a 17-year-old Highschool student, Rowan Stringer, who died as a result of multiple concussions (‘second impact syndrome’) she sustained while playing rugby at school.  Rowan’s Law puts measures in place to prevent and manage concussions.  The ultimate goal is to make school sports safer and protect amateur athletes on the field.  

Rowan’s Law sets out mandatory requirements for:

  • Annual review of concussion awareness resources that educators and coaches must review prior to registering in a particular sport.
  • Protocols for removing and returning players to sport if it’s suspected that they suffered a concussion, to promote proper healing.
  • Rules of behaviour and a code of conduct to prevent and minimize concussions during sports.

Bill 193 also includes amendments to the Education Act.  These amendments authorize the Minister of Education to issue mandatory guidelines and policies for school boards and private schools, requiring schools to adhere to the concussion safety guidelines consistent with Rowan’s Law.   

Rowan’s Law is heralded as the first-of-its-kind and was established after in depth consultation with medical experts, sports leaders and researchers.

22 per cent of Ontario students report being admitted to hospital or being knocked out after sustaining a head injury.  And in cases where youth or children visited the hospital for a sports-related head injury, 39 per cent were diagnosed as having suffered a concussion and 24 per cent were identified as possibly concussed. What’s particularly troubling is that hockey, football and soccer have shown more than a 40% increase in head injury, when compared to other injuries for children and youth, between 2004 and 2014.   The increasingly high incidence of concussions among children and youth pointed to a need for better awareness, education and protocol to prevent brain injury during sports, including concussions.

Of course, it’s not only amateur athletes who frequently suffer head injury and concussions.  Professional athletes involved in contact sports such as hockey, football, rugby and soccer, are particularly at risk.  For many years, the NHL and NFL downplayed and buried the risk of brain injury resulting from repeated concussions. However, these stories are now very much out in the open as the media has related many accounts of athletes who suffered serious injury or died as a result of multiple concussions.  On the grounds that they hid the known risks of concussion for many years, the NFL is currently facing a $1 Billion class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of former NFL players who suffer serious symptoms due to repeated concussions.

Long overdue, in the past few years both the NHL and NFL have adopted new protocols for managing concussions.  Since 2011, the NHL requires players to leave the game and be assessed by a physician after being hit in the head. In 2013, the NFL established rules requiring players who are suspected as having suffered a concussion to be cleared by the team physician and an independent neurologist before they are allowed to return to play.

The message for anyone engaged in sports is not to take a potential concussion lightly.  If a concussion is suspected, players of any age should immediately take a break from play and consult with a physician to get a diagnosis and find out when it’s safe to return to play.


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