Once seen as a minor inconvenience in sports, concussions are now among the most worrisome injuries for athletes – as well as for teams and leagues.
Along with increasingly stringent protocols at all athletic levels, the long-term effects of sports-related concussions are also coming to light with regularity. While science is continually improving, there are still latency issues with concussion symptoms and delays in how brain trauma can develop following an initial injury.
Because of these neurological complications, teams and leagues are working on their risk management strategies for the devastating injuries, which can include concussion insurance.
The potential for later development of head trauma issues years after an actual injury is a reason that insurance companies suggest that sports teams and leagues carry coverage that does not have restrictions in the event that they face litigation from an athlete who alleges there was a failure to warn them about the risk of a sports-related head injury, a failure to protect them from a head injury or a failure to diagnose and treat a head injury, said Bob Murphy, managing partner of Insurance Office of America, or IOA.
As the head of IOA’s Global Sports and Entertainment practice, Murphy works with a wide variety of sports and entertainment clients, ranging from sports teams and leagues to health and fitness clubs and sporting venues.
“[Future complications from head trauma] presents a tremendous amount of exposure for sports entities,” Murphy said of concussion issues. “The challenge for all parties is the delay between an injury and the onset of symptoms — as well as pinpointing when that injury may have happened.
“The risk and uncertainty are the reasons we advise all sports leagues, teams, and organizations to make sure their risk management practices cover concussion-related sports injuries.”
Insurance for concussions and other head trauma should be a focus for organizations at all levels, Murphy said, while players would be covered through employers or individually in the event of injuries.
Organizations can also choose to provide specific concussion coverage for their athletes, both professional and amateur. Iowa became the seventh state to offer concussion insurance for its high school athletes in August through the HeadStrong Concussion Insurance program, providing a $0 copay and $0 deductible for assessments and follow-ups. Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming also provide similar coverage.
The NFL gets most of the public scrutiny when it comes to concussions, in part because so many players have posthumously been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Hollywood’s take on the NFL concussion issue — through the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith — likely didn’t help the sport’s public perception.
American football, however, is tied with lacrosse for the fourth-highest rate of concussion-related injuries at eight percent, according to the National Safety Council. Hockey tops the list at 12 percent, followed by snowboarding and water tubing. Horseback riding, rugby, and wrestling follow football.
Murphy said there’s no hard data for which sports have the highest percentage of teams or leagues carrying concussion insurance.
While teams and leagues can be at risk of potential repercussions because of head trauma injuries, Murphy said it’s important to not lose sight of the prevention improvements made in the past years to make sports safer.
Rules, coaching, and equipment might have actually reduced the number of concussions in sports, but because of medical improvements, head trauma and its severity are much easier to detect today, leading to more scrutiny surrounding the injuries.
“There is no doubt sports are much safer than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago,” Murphy said. “There aren’t necessarily more concussions in sports today than there were in past decades, it’s just that the ability to recognize and treat sports-related concussions is far better than it was even a few years ago.”