Elizabeth Regan
Casey Cochran (Elizabeth Regan)

Casey Cochran, a former starting quarterback for the University of Connecticut, said it took about a dozen concussions to make him realize his days as a football player were over.

He told the story during a Wednesday press conference prior to a vote by the Appropriations Committee on a bill to promote concussion awareness. The measure would require municipalities and private youth sports organizations to provide information about concussions to parents of all children between the ages of 7 and 19. The bill is now on its way to the House floor after the committee approved it without debate.

Cochran, a New London native, said he played football since he was 7 years old; he received his first concussion when he was in sixth grade.

He said his first thought after that initial blow to the head was to hide his symptoms so he could continue playing.

“In all, I think I’ve had around 12, maybe more, maybe a little bit less,” he said. “After every one I thought I had to hide them, because my end goal was to play in college; my end goal was to play in the NFL. My end goal was to play to my highest abilities. But I never realized what they could’ve done to me.”

Now he knows. He’s using that hard-won understanding to advocate for increased awareness about the type of traumatic brain injury that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says can lead to long-term problems affecting brain functions that govern memory, learning, coordination, speech, and emotions.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, co-sponsored the bill with state Rep. Mitch Bolinksy, R-Newtown.

Urban said she’ll be advocating for a vote in the House.

This year’s measure expands on 2014 legislation that required the state Board of Education to develop a concussion education plan to include training of coaches, reporting guidelines to the state, and informed consent from parents of all players. It also established a statewide task force to study concussions in youth athletics.

Founding member of the Parents Concussion Coalition, Pippa Bell Ader, said the measure is necessary to extend concussion awareness outside of the public school system.

“It’s very important in my opinion that the parents and athletes understand what a concussion is, the signs and symptoms, what to do if they have a concussion, when to seek medical help and how to address returning to play,” Ader said.

Ader testified earlier this year before the legislature’s Committee on Children that she has a son with permanent cognitive challenges from a 2007 concussion that was not managed.

Urban told the press Wednesday that the information the bill would require is available from the CDC for free online and in print.

The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that municipalities and organizations providing the information electronically would not incur any costs. Those providing it in-person upon registration would be responsible for minimal printing costs while those printing and mailing the information would pay less than $5,000.

Urban cited opponents of the bill, such as the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and said they incorrectly labeled it an unfunded mandate. “There is no fiscal impact,” Urban said. “For some reason they think the towns and municipalities are going to have to mail to every person in their municipality one of these flyers. That’s not the case.”

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said during the press conference that the bill is a watered down version of the one proposed before the Committee on Children at the beginning of the session. It originally included a provision requiring parents to sign off that they had received the materials, she said.

CCM released a statement Wednesday urging the Appropriations Committee not to pass the bill, saying it would “require laypersons to provide guidance on science that could change from week-to-week, thereby expecting them to stay on top of leading edge science, in a vastly-changing medical field.”

Connecticut Recreation and Parks Association Executive Director Valerie Stolfi Collins said her organization never actively opposed the bill but would welcome the opportunity to help refine the language.

She said she would like to see an immunity clause added to protect coaches from liability if a sideline evaluation he or she may perform does not catch a possible concussion. “They’re not medical doctors; they can’t make that determination,” she said.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, said other states with concussion laws affecting municipal or private organizations have included an immunity provision. While school coaches or those issued a paycheck are often covered by liability insurance with protection for acting in good faith, that is not necessarily the case for volunteers.

In her February testimony on the bill, Niehoff recommended language from a Wisconsin law to protect volunteers that otherwise might decide coaching youth sports isn’t worth the risk.

The Wisconsin legislation says any volunteer who authorizes a person to participate in a youth athletic activity “is immune from civil liability for any injury resulting from that act unless the act constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”

Urban said the immunity clause is not relevant to this bill. While such liability protection could become more of a consideration as legislators continue to work toward preventing concussions in youth sports during future sessions, Urban said she doesn’t think this bill needs it.

“It’s really not appropriate when all we’re doing is educating the parent,” she said.