November 3, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Idaho needs complete concussion legislation


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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The more school and health officials know about the immediate and long-term effects of brain concussions, the greater the concern about their prevention and treatment.

There may be as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions sustained by athletes in the United States each year, accounting for more than 10 percent of all sports injuries. At least one study concludes one player in every football game will suffer a concussion.

Priest River residents are all too aware of those terrible odds.

Several high school football players have been felled by concussions this fall. An injury to Bobby Clark sank him into a coma. Fortunately, he has recovered enough to begin therapy.

He was also fortunate to play in the West Bonner County School District, which follows a recommended policy that provides educational materials to coaches and benches injured players until a medical provider familiar with concussions signs off on their readiness to return to the field.

The district goes a step further with preseason testing of athlete memory and mental acuity.

Washington was the first state to require all schools to implement the education, benching and provider-consent protections. The Zachery Lystedt law, enacted in 2009, was named for an injured middle school football player who was able to graduate from high school with his peers thanks to extensive therapy. All but 10 states have passed such legislation or have bills pending.

Two, Idaho and Wyoming, have only partial legislation in place.

Caroline Faure, director of the Center for Sports Concussion at Idaho State University, says efforts to get a Lystedt-like law enacted began late in the 2010 legislative session in Boise. With time short, lawmakers would consent only to passage of the education component. Coaches get written materials, and a wealth of information on the center’s website,, is available to all.

But the benching and written consent components remain unpassed and, so far, undrafted. Faure says she is looking for a legislator willing to write and sponsor a bill that would protect Idaho high school athletes the way 30 other states have chosen to protect theirs.

The line of sponsors and co-sponsors should be 105 representatives and senators long. Reflexive opposition to any “mandate” is a sad excuse for standing on the sidelines while more athletes, boys and girls – female soccer players are second only to football players in rate of injury – sustain concussions, then return to play before they have healed.

Faure says coaches want to do right, but gritty players and parents who do not understand the long-term consequences too often conceal an injury or press for a premature return to play. Many will regret their haste later in life, when depression, persistent headaches and academic failure will overshadow the glories achieved on a Friday night.

Concussions are unavoidable, but the consequences can be minimized if Idaho lawmakers show some grit of their own.

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