A Call to Action: State Legislators Must Strengthen Youth Concussion Laws

In previous blog posts, I have identified two key issues surrounding youth concussion legislation:

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.

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Call Your State Senator: Protect the Safety of Youth Athletes

In October of 2006, Zackery Lystedt was thirteen years old and a gifted athlete who played on his junior high school football team. During a game, Zackery struck the ground headfirst after tackling an opponent. Later in the game, Zackery collapsed on the field and had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital. Zackery spent the next three months in a coma. It took nine months before he could speak his first word and thirteen months before he could move a limb.

In May of 2009, the Washington State Legislature enacted the Zackery Lystedt Law, the nation’s first comprehensive youth sports concussion safety act. Since then, all fifty states, along with the District of Columbia, have enacted youth sports concussion legislation. However, as I alluded to in my first blog post, these state laws can be placed into tiers, ranging from most to least protective. The table below summarizes the strengths and weaknesses that characterize each tier.

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Upon examining the disparity across state statutes, an obvious question arises: given the universal interest in protecting children, why do some states provide greater safeguards than others? The answer lies in lobbying efforts made by key stakeholders: generally speaking, in states where lobbying has been greatest, statutes are stronger. Therefore, in order to ensure adequate safeguards for all youth athletes, and to protect children like Zackery Lystedt, each one of us must contribute to the lobbying effort.

In recent weeks, many people have picked up the phone to call the United States Senator or Representative from their respective state or district regarding national issues. While it is certainly important to participate in political discourse at the national level, especially in this new administration, it is equally, if not more, important to participate at the local level as well. So, I challenge you to find ten minutes today, where instead of going on Facebook or playing Candy Crush, you call your state senator about the inadequacy of your state’s concussion law: the future of our youth depends on it.

Not Your Ordinary Super Bowl Preview: Keeping an Eye on Concussions

This Sunday, millions of Americans – myself included – will tune in to watch the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League, and the most-watched television broadcast in the United States. Some viewers will be cheering for a particular team; others will care more about the commercials or the halftime performance. I, however, will be on the lookout for concussions, an issue that has plagued the sport in recent years.

As the oldest of five siblings, three of whom played football, I am particularly concerned about the potential impact of concussions on youth athletes. And so too are state legislators: since 2009, when Washington enacted the first youth concussion law, all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, have enacted some form of youth sports concussion legislation.

However, while every American child is now protected to some degree, children in certain states, like Washington, have been afforded greater safeguards than children in other states, like Mississippi. This is a problem: according to the CDC, youth athletes are particularly susceptible to the effects of concussions because their brains are still developing. This problem is exacerbated when children are subjected to differing levels of legal protection across state lines.

In addition to being an oldest sibling, I am also a second-year law student and an advocate for stronger youth concussion safety laws. Over the past year, I have read and analyzed all fifty-one statutes and read hundreds of articles on this topic. From my research, I have categorized these laws into five distinct tiers, ranging from most to least protective (see the chart below). My next post will expand upon how I have characterized each tier.

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By placing these statutes into tiers, I hope to inspire state legislators, especially those in the bottom groupings, to strengthen their concussion laws. But perhaps more importantly, I hope to educate the public on the importance of youth concussion safety. And so this Sunday, while you are scarfing down pizza, keep in mind that football is a dangerous sport, one that has potentially dire consequences for the millions of youth athletes watching at home.