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Rules Dictate When an Injured Player Leaves the Court, but Common Sense Should Rule When a Player Returns- But Does It?

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Player safety as it relates to  removal of a player upon sustaining a concussion is receiving much-needed attention by teams, as well as officials. Basketball rules, as set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations  (NFHS), are clear: the official shall remove a player if he/she is displaying symptoms of a concussion, and the player can return to the game only if/when cleared by a medical professional.

It is this latter clause, the re-entry of a player after an injury, that give me pause to wonder, when is it medically OK to return to the court, versus when does it truly makes sense to return to the court?  In a recent girls varsity game, a player was wearing a blue headband that did not match what her teammates were wearing. By rule, she was required to remove it or match here teammates.   When asked, she indicated that the headband was medically prescribed equipment to protect her because she had previously suffered a concussion. Clearly, we did not require her to remove it and we alerted our association of this new "equipment".

In another game a player was wearing what appeared to be a black t-shirt, but with one short sleeve.  By rule, the undergarment needed to be the main color of the jersey, and both sleeves needed to be of same length. When asked, the player indicated that he was a wearing a protective brace, prescribed by his doctor, to allow him to play after he had dislocated his shoulder.  We allowed it.

In both instances the medical "equipment" was soft to the touch, so no injury would necessarily result to another player who came in contact with it.  By rule, such "equipment" is permitted.  But setting rules aside for a  moment, I am inwardly conflicted, if not aghast, at the very notion that a player is playing before healing!   I do not understand under what circumstances parents or coaches appear to prioritize the team's win-loss over a a child's (and YES, they are children -- even though they are teenagers!)  physical well-being.  The equipment was protective "post-injury" -- versus preventive; which suggests to me, at least, that their injuries had NOT yet healed.  There is little doubt in my mind that if either player were to sustain another dislocated limb or concussion, the officials would be blamed for "not keeping the game under control".  All we can do is to know and enforce the rules.   But in my heart of hearts, the accountability for an injury that could occur after allowing a player to re-enter a game, be it that evening, or later in the season, lies with the parents and coaches.  It is my hope that compassion and common sense will ultimately enter into the decision-making process, and trump the win-loss record every time.