When it comes to concussions and young athletes, Washington state law doesn’t mess around. If you’re under 18 and you’re suspected of having sustained a concussion, you’re coming out of the game and not getting back in until you get written permission from a licensed health care provider.
It’s called the Lystedt Law, named after a middle school football player from Maple Valley, Wash., who nearly died after returning to a game with a head injury. As legislation goes, this law is plain spoken and simple to understand.
How that law gets turned into an active policy on an athletic field is more involved. It not only demands a change in policy, it demands a change in an athletic culture.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) is working to facilitate the change.
The high school sports governing body created sport-specific training packages for every coach in every sport that are available free of charge and required learning. It requires that each athlete be educated about the dangers and symptoms of concussion and urged to report any head injury to the coach.
The WIAA enlisted the aid of Dr. Stan Herring, a University of Washington physician, who is a leading authority on the subject and helped the National Football League revise its policy on concussions as well as serving as a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Mariners.
“If a coach even suspects an athlete has a concussion, it is critical that they remove that athlete from play,” Dr. Herring says in a 15-minute video on the WIAA website.
“No matter what you do, whether it’s making sure the equipment fits properly, playing by the rules, or really following every guideline, sometimes you cannot prevent the first concussion,” he goes on to explain. “It’s not the first concussion that’s the problem, it’s playing with symptoms from the first concussion when the brain is vulnerable that sets the youth athlete up for more serious injury.
“On one study, almost 40 percent of athletes who had a serious brain injury were playing with symptoms of a concussion. It’s important to rest, to stop until all signs and symptoms of a concussion are gone before there’s even a thought of continuing to play.”
A program Herring created for the NFL is being used by local coaches to help recognize and diagnose head trauma by measuring cognitive abilities and reaction times before the season begins.
“At the beginning of the season we take all of our kids into the computer lab and have them go through this program,” West Valley football coach Craig Whitney explained. “That gives us a baseline measurement for each kid that we can test against later. It can help tell us if an athlete really is fully recovered.”