Since Washington State passed the Zachery Lystedt law in 2009, each state has enacted legislation to protect young athletes from the risks associated with concussion in sport.
On October 2006, 13-year old Zachery Lystedt collapsed from a traumatic brain injury when he was allowed back into the game just fifteen minutes after suffering from a concussion and then spent months in a coma followed by years of rehabilitation. As a result of that event, Washington State enacted the first youth sports concussion safety law to address management in youth athletics, called the Zachery Lystedt law.
The key provisions of the Zachery Lystedt law are:
- School districts board of directors and state interscholastic activities associations must develop concussion guidelines and education programs.
- Youth athletes and a parent and/or guardian must sign and return a concussion and head injury information sheet on a yearly basis before the athlete’s first practice or before being allowed to compete.
- Youth athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion in a practice or game must be immediately removed from competition.
- Youth athletes who have been taken out of a game because of suspected concussion are not allowed to return to play until after:
- Being evaluated by a health care provider with specific training in the evaluation and management of concussions
- Receiving written clearance to return to plan from that health care provider
- A school district complying with the law is immune from liability for injury or death of an athlete participating in a private, non-profit youth sports program due to action or inaction of persons employed by or under contract with the sports program if:
- The action or inaction occurs on school property.
- The non-profit provides proof of insurance.
- The non-profit provides a statement of compliance with the policies for management of concussion and head injury in youth sports.
NFL Commissioner Urges State Governors to Enact Youth Concussion Laws
Following passage of the Zachery Lystedt law, in the spring of 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to 77 U.S. Governors to encourage them to push for concussion legislation to protect youth athletes in their states.
He said: “Given our experience at the professional level, we believe a similar approach is appropriate when dealing with concussions in all youth sports. That is why the NFL and its clubs urge you to support legislation that would better protect your state’s young athletes by mandating a more formal and aggressive approach to the treatment of concussions.”
States Pass Youth Concussion Laws Modeled after Zachery Lystedt Law
By 2013, all states except Mississippi had enacted youth sports concussion safety laws modeled after Washington State’s Zachery Lystedt law. Finally, in 2014 Mississippi became the 50th state to respond by passing legislation to protect young athletes from the risks associated with concussion in sport.
The three main tenets of each state’s concussion legislation are:
- To mandate educational outreach to coaches, parents and athletes
- To mandate immediate removal from play of any athlete who sustains a concussion or who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with the injury
- To only allow those athletes who exhibit such signs, symptoms, or behaviors to return to physical activity after receiving written clearance from an appropriate health care provider who is trained in concussion management
Many state laws also require parents to sign an acknowledgement form prior to allowing their child to play a contact sport after they have received information on concussion and acknowledged concussion risks involved with that sport.
Although nearly all laws include those three tenets, based on their own individual needs, many state laws vary on what sport programs must comply, what penalties exist for those who do not comply, and what medical providers are “appropriate” to make return to play decisions.