Kudos to Florida Governor Charlie Crist and dozens of state lawmakers across the country who are pushing for legislation in their states to improve awareness and treatment of concussions in youth sports. Last year Washington and Oregon passed the first concussion-specific laws covering scholastic sports. Each mandated education for coaches, immediate removal from play of any athlete suspected of a concussion in a game or practice and proper medical clearance before that athlete could return. Washington’s in particular — named after Zackery Lystedt, a teenager who in 2006 sustained a serious brain injury playing football — is a template for other states formulating similar legislation.
The trend will get a name next week when the Zackery Lystedt Brain Project is formally announced at the Super Bowl Spearheaded by the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation and the American College of Sports Medicine, the initiative will continue those organizations’ push for states to enact laws similar to Washington’s. Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York are among those with bills in the works.
“We are going to get maybe 24 states passing the laws or making serious headway this year,” said Patrick Donohue, founder of the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation. The national organization focused on youth brain injuries is named after his 4-year-old daughter, who was seriously injured when shaken by a nurse as an infant.
Donohue added: “Washington’s law is a work of art, and it took almost two years, but they’ve already done the hard work. We don’t need to take two years in every state.”
The laws cover youth sports beyond football; other contact sports, particularly girls soccer and basketball, have recently been recognized as breeding grounds for concussions that often go ignored or are mistreated.
About 1.2 million teenagers play high school football in the United States, with another three million participants ages 14 and younger. According to research out of Ohio State University, youth football players sustained about 140,000 concussions per year, with as many as 40 percent of them returned to the field sooner than modern guidelines would suggest. More states are pushing for laws like those in Washington and Oregon.
One of those is Florida, where Gov. Charles J. Crist Jr. plans to push for a Lystedt-type law in his state, and also to espouse its purpose to his fellow governors at their national meeting next month.
A challenge for many states, particularly rural ones, will be finding the medical personnel to comply with the laws. State Senator Daniel L. Squadron of New York, a Democrat and the sponsor of his state’s bill, said that requiring doctors on every sideline was distractingly costly for this first step.
“We are in a world where certain communities have the resources or knowledge of these issues, and others don’t, and it’s catch as catch can,” Squadron said. “The first piece is make sure that coaches catch the signs early to help prevent these injuries. And then make sure there’s an independent medical professional making the return-to-play decision so that you don’t have the issues of someone related to the team making the decision. Frankly, it makes life easier for the coaches and trainers.”
That’s all well and good, but the people in the best position to observe whether a child has suffered a concussion are his/her parents. Too many parents succumb to the pressure from the child or his youth coach to send him back to practice soon after a concussion. Is it me or do more and more parents seem to be living their lives through their child’s sports? In my day there were a couple of obnoxious "Little League" parents on every sideline. Today, it seems like the majority of parents behave as if the youth game has national ramifications. This explains why some parents are willing to rush their child back into full contact after a head injury.
Parents, let’s face it, your son has a better chance of winning the lottery than playing in the NFL, so why risk further brain damage by rushing him back into full contact at the youth football level? Educate yourselves about the dangers of repeat concussions and make the tough decision to be unpopular and hold your kid out of practice until a brain injury specialist advises that it’s safe for him to return.