ENGLEWOOD, NJ - In response to the troubling increase in youth sports-related injuries, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-09) today joined current and former NFL players, safety and health experts, student athletes and school athletic officials at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood to announce the Supporting Athletes, Families and Educators to Protect the Lives of Athletic Youth (known as the "SAFE PLAY Act")-the most comprehensive federal legislation before Congress aimed at improving the safety of youth athletes. The legislation addresses concussions, cardiac arrests, heat-related illness and consumption of energy drinks.

Speaking to more than 100 student-athletes from the school's boys and girls varsity teams, Menendez asked how many young people drank energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster or Rockstar before a game, and stressed the risks associated with them: "We all know that the benefit of playing far outweighs the risks," he said. "But we also know that the best way to stem the tide is to be prepared - knowing the warning signs and how to respond to an emergency are critical tools to help ensure that every game, every match and every day is as safe as possible."

"As we encourage our children to be healthy athletes, we must also do everything possible to protect them as they participate in sports," said Rep. Pascrell, Co-founder and Co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "It's imperative that our coaches, trainers, parents and athletes have the necessary tools to ensure the safety of our youngest athletes on the playing field."

Roughly 46.5 million children play team sports each year across the country. While sports are an important part of a healthy childhood, there has been a troubling increase in student athletes suffering from sports related injuries including concussions, heat stroke, and even sudden cardiac arrest. More than 1.35 million kids were seen in the emergency room with sports related injuries in 2012 alone and every three minutes a young athlete is treated for a sports-related concussion. Further, there have been increases in the number of kids suffering from heat-related illnesses on the field and those needing medical attention resulting from drinking too many energy drinks.

To address this concerning trend, the SAFE PLAY Act would take a multipronged approach of research, community education, and federal support for school district to create comprehensive action plans to keep kids safe, focusing on several areas, including heat exposure, CPR and AED training, concussion response, and energy drink consumption, to ensure children's safety in athletics and on campus.

Senator Menendez and Congressman Pascrell have led efforts at the federal level to enhance youth sports safety, authoring the ConTACT Act focusing on concussions and HEARTS Act which targets the heart condition cardiomyopathy. The SAFE ACT combines the two measures and expands them to provide the most comprehensive youth sports safety legislation to date.

Andrea Pribula, athletic trainer at Dwight Morrow High School, teaches her athletes about concussions, heat illness, cardiac arrests and the importance of good nutrition and said the SAFE PLAY Act gives her hope schools will have the tools they need so "that our young athletes can enjoy sports safely and reap the social, psychological and physical benefits of sports participation."

"Sports participation benefits our youth in ways that have lifelong effects: children learn perseverance, teamwork, leadership skills, time management and a success mindset. As a school district, we encourage our students to get involved in sports. At the same time, we are serious about teaching injury prevention and good sportsmanship on and off the field or court," says Michael Roth, Englewood Public School District Interim Superintendent of Schools.

"The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation is proud to support the growing advocacy around youth sports safety and the Safe Play Act is a very important step toward raising awareness and encouraging the development of best practices to prevent, document and address youth athlete injuries," said New Jersey native and Philadelphia Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins, Founder and Chairman of the Foundation which is working to build awareness around sports safety through programs that impact youth, families and communities.

"I'd like to thank Senator Menendez and Congressman Pascrell for introducing this critical legislation that will ultimately improve the overall health, safety, and wellbeing of our youth and high school scholar athletes, and I'm proud to support their efforts."

"I am honored to partner with Senator Menendez on the SAFE PLAY Act," said Lisa Yue, president and founder of the Children's Cardiomyopathy Foundation. "September marks the first Children's Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month, which was launched to call attention to cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in the young. Too often, we hear of a young athlete collapsing on the field without warning. The SAFE PLAY Act includes important provisions to protect the lives of student athletes who unknowingly may have cardiomyopathy and be at risk for sudden cardiac death."

Specifically, the SAFEPLAY Act would direct the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services to:

  • Recommend guidelines for the development of emergency actions plans for student athletes
  • Report to Congress on the number of sports related fatalities and catastrophic injuries and the cause
  • Develop and disseminate information about the health risks associated with exposure to excessive heat and humidity, and how to avoid heat-related illness
  • Develop information on the ingredients used in energy drinks, potential side effects, and recommend guidelines for the safe use of energy drink consumption by students

The bill would also provide assistance for school districts to:

  • Develop and implement a standard plan for concussion safety and management and set up concussion management teams to respond to incidents on campus
  • Assist schools in developing and implementing an excessive heat action plan to be used during all school-sponsored athletic activities that occur during periods of excessive heat and humidity
  • Provide access to critical resources to teach students across the country the life-saving skills of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use automated external defibrillators (AED)