State Representative Patricia Dillon wants to re-examine what it means to "work through an injury" when it comes to student athletes.
"It could very well mean that they end up addicted to opioids or they end up with a head trauma that shows up years after college," Dillon said. "These teams are operating in a very competitive environment and we want to see if there’s a way to have a common framework."
To that end, Dillon has introduced a bill with the goal of setting best practices for preventing injuries among college athletes. She’s particularly concerned with concussions. Her bill would allow the state to enforce those guidelines.
Dillon is working with state Representative Matthew Lesser and Ramogi Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA who founded the National College Players Association. Huma formed the organization to advocate for basic player protection.
Huma, in public testimony, said he wants a commission to be established to protect college athletes. Dillon does not believe that is realistic at this point because money is tight in this year's budget. Instead, Dillon is pushing for changes that won't cost much. That includes poring over available concussion data and possibly forming a work group with the Connecticut Office of Higher Education.
"I think that there are a number of things that we can do getting started that may not require a dollar outlay," Dillon said.
Central Connecticut State University Athletic Director Paul Schlickmann said that while he was not familiar with the bill and its creation, he's happy about the way the school does things now when it comes to player safety. The school follows NCAA protocol.
"Regardless of what the intent ultimately may be, I feel very confident that we are doing a good job with taking care of the health and safety of our student athletes," Schlickmann said.
Dillon said she welcomes the opportunity to consult and work with Connecticut colleges, but she also thinks the state needs to go beyond NCAA regulations.
"The NCAA has some feeble rules, but they have no enforcement," she said.
Her bill wouldn’t be the first of its kind in Connecticut. The state already has rules on the books when it comes to high school athletes and injuries like concussions.
An Act Concerning Youth Athletics and Concussions, was signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy in 2014. As a result, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body for high school sports, moved to educate families and schools on concussions. They emphasized proper reporting of concussion-related symptoms.
Dr. Steven Wysowski, the organization’s associate executive director, said the law has had positive results.
"Football is in a better spot than it’s ever been before," Wysowski said. "It's safer. Coaches are better trained. Officials are better trained."
Dillon's bill was discussed at a public hearing on February 3. Its future is uncertain.