July 2013 Bar Bulletin
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July 2013 Bar Bulletin

Youth Sports and Concussions: When in Doubt, Sit Them out

By Brian Brunkow


It's estimated that there are 3.9 million sports- and recreational-related concussions every year in the United States, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The problem, though, is that you can't see a concussion.

Briefly, a concussion is an injury that changes how the cells in the brain normally function and is caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull.1 The CDC reports that football and hockey have the highest number of concussions, followed by soccer, wrestling, basketball, field hockey, baseball, softball and volleyball.2 It's estimated that U.S. high school athletes sustain 300,000 concussions per year; 67,000 from interscholastic football.3 The risk of concussions is highest in the 15- to 19-year-old age group among all age groups nationally.4

And a concussion, unlike the infamous Lawrence Taylor-delivered compound fracture to Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football, is difficult to diagnose. Concussion symptoms may appear immediately after impact or may not be noticed for days or weeks after the injury.5

As attorneys, many of us are parents and youth sports coaches and we are paying increased attention to concussions in the competitive youth sports arena. As a youth football coach myself, it seems the kids get bigger and stronger every season and the competition more intense with year-round training and multiple summer camp expectations.

So with the school year done and sports camps and summer practices starting up, it's time to review Washington's "Return to Play" background, requirements and purpose.

Washington's Key Role in "Return to Play" Legislation

In May 2009, former Gov. Christine Gregoire signed House Bill 1824 (HB 1824), an act requiring the adoption of policies for the management of concussions and head injuries in youth sports.6 HB 1824 amended RCW 4.24.660 and added an important section to chapter RCW 28A.600.

HB 1824, known as the "Zackery Lystedt Law," was first-in-the-nation legislation and quickly became the framework for 47 states plus the District of Columbia (as of June) in setting guidelines for student-athletes' "return to play" clearance after suffering head injuries.

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