A greater awareness of the impact of sports-related concussions has swept the country, as over 40 states are currently developing legislation that will set standards for when a student athlete can return to the playing field. Although these laws vary by state, the core principles include educating students, coaches, and parents about the dangers of concussions, removing athletes from the field if a concussion is suspected, and requiring medical clearance before they may return.
The catalyst for this interest was the Zackery Lystedt law, passed in Washington state in May 2009. In October 2006, Zackery Lystedt returned to his middle school football game after enduring a hard hit. Following the game, he collapsed and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
A traumatic brain injury is caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 200,000 sportsand- recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, occur each year, with the highest incidence occurring to children between 10 and 14 years old.
"The beautiful thing about this law is that it's simple, workable, and doesn't have a fiscal impact," says Dan Henkel, senior director of communication and advocacy at American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). "It removes liability from those who sponsor these activities by having the decision to return to play be made by someone qualified."
Oklahoma is one of the 40 states examining this issue in the state legislature. In February 2010, an Oklahoma State Senate committee held a hearing for a bill modeled after these initiatives. The committee has also recognized other plans from districts around the state, including employing athletic trainers at school-sponsored sports events and using a computerized system, ImPACT Concussion Management, to better evaluate head injuries.
"Administrators are key stakeholders to driving legislation in their state," says Patrick Donohue, founder of the Sarah Jane Brain Project, a private foundation for children suffering from pediatric acquired brain injuries. Donohue hopes that within two years every state will have passed some form of this legislation.