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NFL and NCAA push for youth sports concussion legislation

In an effort to provide a safer sports environment for America’s children, the NFL and NCAA are advocating for state legislation designed to prevent and properly treat concussions among youth athletes.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NCAA President Mark Emmert and their organizations are urging state lawmakers and other leaders throughout the country to support legislation containing the key elements of a law passed in Washington State in 2009.

The Zackery Lystedt law is named for a star youth football player who suffered life-threatening injuries after being permitted to return to play in a game following a concussion. Zackery, his family and a broad range of medical, business and community partners lobbied the Washington state legislature for a law to protect young athletes in all sports from returning to play too soon.

The Lystedt law contains three essential elements: athletes, parents and coaches must be educated about the dangers of concussions each year; young athletes suspected of having a concussion must be removed from a game or practice and not be permitted to return to play; and a licensed health care professional must clear the young athlete to return to play in the subsequent days or weeks.

The NFL and the NCAA each have implemented policies to properly manage concussions among the nearly 2,000 NFL players  and 400,000 student-athletes competing each year.  These policies focus on increasing concussion awareness through a variety of outreach efforts, properly identifying concussion symptoms, and establishing strict return-to-play guidelines.

“We are pleased that President Emmert and the NCAA will support our campaign and add visibility to this issue not only with football but also with the other 22 NCAA sports for the benefit of young athletes and their families,” Goodell said. “We have learned that while concussions certainly are a challenge in football that it is equally important that young athletes in many other sports be educated on this subject as well.”

Despite the efforts being undertaken by the NFL and NCAA, such formal and aggressive treatment of concussions is nonexistent for many of the 38 million youth, ages 5–18, participating in organized youth sports in the United States.

“We are working alongside Commissioner Goodell and the NFL to help protect young athletes at all levels of competition,” Emmert said. “The NCAA has experience with addressing concussions across all of our 23 sports for both genders and we look forward to providing leadership on this issue as well for the youth student-athlete.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur each year in the United States.

The NFL has been a leader in this campaign the last two years, and during that time 21 states have passed substantial youth concussion legislation.