In previous blog posts, I have identified two key issues surrounding youth concussion legislation:
- (1) state laws can be placed into tiers, ranging from most to least protective;
- (2) there is tremendous disparity in the protections offered to youth athletes across state lines.
This blog post will provide solutions aimed at resolving these key issues.
Today, existing legislation tends to focus on reducing the secondary effects of concussions after an injury has already occurred. These measures are important, but do not go far enough. Moving forward, legislators must begin to address the primary risks of concussions, the root causes of the injury, before it takes place. More specifically, state legislators should amend their youth concussion statutes to incorporate the following provisions. Each state statute should:
- (a) clearly define the statute’s purpose – to protect all youth athletes both before and after an injury occurs;
- (b) expressly expand coverage to include private recreational sports, such as clubs and travel teams (not just school athletics);
- (c) require all coaches to complete annual concussion-specific training;
- (d) require written medical clearance from a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation of concussions before an athlete can return to play;
- (e) require the state’s Department of Health to establish an anonymous hotline, which allows interested stakeholders to report instances where they believe the statute has been violated;
- (f) require the state’s Department of Health to provide baseline testing to all youth athletes on an annual basis;
- and (g) impose sanctions on coaches who fail to satisfy the statutory mandate, based on gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Here, we are reminded of the tragic story of Zackery Lystedt. Once Zackery collapsed for the first time, he should have been removed from the game and prevented from reentering until receiving written medical clearance from a trained health care professional. But that alone is not a solution; we cannot wait until after an injury occurs. Rather, we must be proactive. A more comprehensive resolution, such as the one offered above, will provide greater protections to children like Zackery, both before and after they run onto the playing surface.