New federal law may affect athletics

By Matt Hill

   A new law now on the books may become a major headache for coaches of college and professional teams, as well as for the media.
   The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has been a hot topic this summer for collegiate athletic trainers.
   The part of the law that affects athletics says that a player has to sign a waiver for an injury to be released to coaches, parents and the media.
   This means media will have a harder time disclosing injuries, and it could also cause trouble for coaches. The player now doesn't even have to tell the coach or his own parents.
   Appalachian State University head athletic trainer Jim Shorten thought the law was written with good intentions, but knows athletics will definitely be affected.
   "It's a federal law that's suppose to cut through red tape, and help make insurance more portable," Shorten said. "The problem is disclosing information to non-health care professionals. It makes it difficult for us to draw the line."
   The penalties for the law don't take effect until April, but Appalachian State wants to be prepared.
   The school is going ahead with a plan for this year, and will follow the guidelines stated in the law.
   "We have a couple of ideas," Shorten said. "We're using this year to have our ducks in a row. We're going to implement the plan for football and the other fall sports."
   The law will be difficult on athletic trainers. If the parties involved don't comply, fines and jail time could be at hand.
   "It's going to cause more headaches and paperwork on my end," Shorten said. "We have to make sure everything is signed. We brief the football staff daily, but now that may be a little more time consuming."
   Gone may be the days of the Major League Baseball disabled list, as well as the very popular NFL injury list.
   The media will now have a hard time giving out injury information. It will probably be a guessing game for sports writers and sports broadcasters.
   "If radio and TV wants to know about an injury, I won't be able to do that," Shorten said. "It's not like I can walk around with any releases."
   Shorten thinks that coaches may not be affected as much. He expects players to release the information to them.
   "That should be no problem," Shorten said. "The players are more apt to tell a coach. Athletes really don't care if they know. It's just going to be more paperwork."
   There's still some uncertainty going into this season on just how the law will effect coaches and media. But it definitely won't be business as usual.
   Shorten thinks the effects are going to be tough on the people involved.
   "The effects are going to be a lot more far-reaching than anybody ever imagined," Shorten said. "We want to get a year of the policy under our belt before we start running into problems."
   Shorten says the policy ASU uses may change after this year, as the school is just going to take a year to experiment before the penalties take effect.
   "This year might not be what we do next year, but it will be close," Shorten said.
   East Tennessee State head trainer Jerry Robertson is still unsure about what that school is going to do.
   "We're waiting on some rulings from organizations, but some type of policy is going to have to be used," Robertson said.
   Both Robertson and Shorten are in agreement that this was probably the last thing on lawmakers' minds when the law was set up.
   "I'm not sure if they new what effect it would have on athletics," Robertson said.
   Said Shorten: "They probably didn't consider its impact on athletics."