The Boston City Council on Wednesday approved health and safety measures for NCAA athletes who play in Boston, including requiring a neurotrauma consultant at every Division I football, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse event to monitor head, neck and spine injuries.
Boston is believed to be the first U.S. city to pass laws on behalf of NCAA athletes. In addition to the College Athlete Head Injury Gameday Safety Protocol, Boston continues to try to pass other local laws related to educational rights and health care for college athletes.
Most of Boston’s concussion laws will impact any NCAA-sanctioned event in the city. In Division I, that covers Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University and Harvard, plus their opponents. The ordinance requires local colleges to have an emergency medical action plan for all host venues. It also bans a player from reentering competition when he or she suffers a concussion or is suspected to have one.
The most unique twist is requiring a neurotrauma consultant for Division I football, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse starting July 1, 2015. Dan Sibor, chief of staff for Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, said the idea was inspired from the NFL’s use of neurotrauma consultants.
“Most major Division I programs probably meet this definition already, but I think you might see it have more of an impact at a smaller school,” Sibor said. “There’s no competitive consideration here. The consultant is supporting the onsite medical teams for the two teams. The final decision on evaluating a player still remains with the medical staff of that player.”
Sibor said Boston universities had resisted the ordinance in part due to redundancy of what they already do. But without comprehensive regulations by the NCAA, Sibor said Boston felt it was necessary to create these laws. Boston has similar legislation for high school sports.
Boston’s Public Health Commission will be in charge of enforcing the ordinance after drafting its rules.
“It may be as simple as periodically sending people out to check for compliance or asking the schools to submit a report,” Sibor said. “There’s a self-reporting aspect to it where if a student or family has a complaint, they can call the commission as well. The commission could establish fines. They could use the services of the attorney general’s office. We’re pretty confident most of the schools in the city takes this really seriously already.”
Next on Boston's agenda for Boston is trying to pass a bill of rights for college athletes requiring universities to provide a fifth full year of financial aid to athletes if they haven’t graduated yet; “comprehensive” year-round health insurance; and cover longterm medical expenses resulting from a college sports injury. A draft of the ordinance could come later this fall.
“There are some commitments by universities to longer term care and longer term scholarships in place, but it’s kind of all over the board,” Sibor said. “Long-term health care is going to be the most difficult negotiation. There may be things we can’t agree on."
Sibor said Northeastern provides two years of health care for a sports-related injury after an athlete leaves. Universities in Boston have expressed concern at unlimited liability for an indefinite period of time.
“If you're providing value for your school by participating in athletics -- and we’re of the opinion that schools wouldn’t be participating in athletics if there wasn’t some value there, whether the school is making money or not -- it stands to reason if you’re injured, you should be compensated,” Sibor said. “That’s the way it is in many other facets of life. It doesn’t seem fair for a kid who suffers a debilitating injury that’s going to have ramifications for the rest of his or her life to have to bear the cost."
Since Zakim went public with his proposals in May, Sibor said a couple other U.S. cities have reached out to Boston with interest. “There just aren’t that many cities that could pass something like this,” Sibor said.
The safety ordinance will go into immediate effect after it’s signed by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.