Concussions are becoming alarmingly commonplace injuries among youth playing team sports like football, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and field hockey. Concussions affect up to 3.8 million kids nationwide each year. Kids’ brains, because they are still developing, are more susceptible to damage and more likely to sustain repetitive, permanent injury. Nonetheless, concussions regularly fly under the radar. Without proper training to recognize the symptoms of a concussion – including headaches, vomiting, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light or noise, confusion, irritability, and amnesia – coaches often send players back onto the field.

This was the deadly scenario that led Zackery Lystedt back into his middle school football game in 2006. After Zachary had hit the ground late in the first half, he grabbed his helmet in pain and struggled to get back up. His coach pulled him to the sideline, where he sat out for 15 minutes, before returning in for the remainder of the game. During a game-saving fumble on the goal line, Zackery was hit again, this time causing a brain hemorrhage that resulted in the removal of both sides of his cranium. For almost three months afterwards he was in and out of a coma.

Ultimately, Zackery’s brain injury rendered him without the use of his legs, never again able to play the sport he once loved. However, Zackery and his family championed an effort to lobby their Washington state legislature for a law protecting other young athletes from returning to play too soon and suffering a similar fate. With the help of attorney Richard Adler, then-President of the Brain Injury Assoc. of Washington (BIAWA), and other community supporters, they managed to get Washington State to adopt the Zackery Lystedt Law in July of 2009.

Watch a CBS video showing Zackery’s inspiring story here.

The bill aims to prevent concussion injuries from occurring in all youth sports by enforcing three important regulations:

- Athletes, parents and coaches must be educated about the dangers of concussions each year.
-If a young athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he/she must be removed from a game or practice and not be permitted to return to play. When in doubt, sit them out.
-A licensed health care professional must clear the young athlete to return to play in the subsequent days or weeks.

Soon after hearing Zachary’s story, numerous states adopted the Lystedt Law or passed equivalent legislation protecting young athletes. But unfortunately, many states still argue that contact is an intrinsic component of team sports and push back against legislation aimed at preventing injuries. As a result, many states with thriving football traditions - the sport responsible for the most instances of youth concussions - have yet to implement preventative regulations; check to see if your state is lagging behind the national safety trend here.

In states without legislation in place, countless kids take the risk of sustaining a life-threatening brain injury every time they suit up and step on the field. Join the fight to get all 50 states to implement the Lystedt law, or equivalent legislation, keeping all young American athletes safe!

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