When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field from a heart condition after making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, his heart stopped twice before they could get him into an ambulance.
He survived because emergency responders trained in CPR and use of a defibrillator were at the game and jumped quickly into action to save his life.
But an athlete, parent or coach at a youth sports game or practice might not be so lucky to have individuals trained in basic life-saving procedures immediately available to save them.
It’s very rare for a youth athlete to die from a sudden cardiac arrest, which is usually caused by either an underlying heart condition or some kind of blow to the chest. The Mayo Clinic estimates it occurs in about 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 80,000 athletes. Other sources put the number at about 100 such deaths per year. But it happens.
According to the American Heart Association, it’s more common in males than in females, in football and basketball than in other sports, and in African Americans than in other races and ethnic groups.
In many cases death is preventable with quick medical treatment on the scene.
The Hamlin incident has shined the spotlight on the problem, and state lawmakers are considering legislation to help reduce the chances of something like this happening in New York.
A draft of a bill proposed by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is designed to ensure that there’s someone at youth sporting events, outside scholastic sports, who’s trained in basic first aid, including recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest, and in adult and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The legislation would apply to sports groups such as Little League and other leagues hosted by local organizations and clubs. The reason scholastic sports are excluded is because high school coaches in New York are already required to have CPR training.
Coaches under this plan would have up to a year to become trained.
Under the draft of the legislation, a coach who wasn’t able to complete training could continue to coach as long as there’s someone else present who is trained.
The bill would not require coaches to be certified in the life-saving measures, as that often involves a cost. They only would to have received some kind of training. Often workplaces and local organizations offer such training for free. Free training in CPR is also available online. Since the training would be free, this doesn’t represent an unfunded state mandate on local youth sports organizations or communities.
The bill raises important concerns about the threat to young athletes and the need to have trained medical professionals nearby in case of an emergency, rare though that might be.
Even without a law coaches should take it upon themselves to get training. Leagues also might want to organize training sessions for their coaches by inviting trainers to a single training event.
The bill still needs to be fleshed out to consider factors unique to individual leagues. For instance, some local leagues already ensure that at least one person trained in CPR and other first aid is in attendance at their events. Some leagues arrange to have EMTs or police officers at their events, which would negate the need to have all coaches trained.
The legislation also should factor in the fact that multiple games are often going on at once in the same place, so there might not be a need for all the coaches of each of those teams to be trained.
One area that could fall through the cracks if coaches are not required to be trained is practices. In many local leagues, practices often take place outside the main fields and away from the trained medical personnel who might be available during official games.
The draft bill has no provisions for enforcement or penalties, and it should stay that way, at least for now. The legislation should be viewed an encouragement to act, not as a punishment.
Clearly there are still some details that need to be worked out. But the obstacles are not insurmountable.
The principal importance of this legislation is to make sure that someone — a coach, a parent, a league official, a police officer, a doctor, an EMT — is available immediately at a youth sporting event should they be needed in an emergency.
After seeing what happened to Damar Hamlin, and knowing what happens to young athletes around the country, lawmakers should make sure this legislation gets passed as quickly as possible.