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Top Youth Sports Story of 2011: New Concussion Safety Laws

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Every day at MomsTeam the staff talks about the best and worst youth sports stories of the day. Each year we vow to post a Top Ten list, as do our friends at the Positive Coaching Alliance, with their "Top 10 Responsible Sports Moments," or, select the top youth athlete, as the folks do at Sports Illustrated for Kids.

But we realized that selecting ten stories or one kid to highlightt when there are over 50 million kids playing sports in fifty states just isn't possible. The simple fact is that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of "responsible moments" and millions of great young athletes whose spirit, desire to excel, and sportsmanship deserve to be recognized.

But if I had one story to pick from the year just past to highlight, the one I believe deserved to be recognized above all others was the passage by so many states in 2011 of youth sports concussion safety laws.

An amazing total, by our count, of twenty states and the District of Columbia passed such laws in 2011, bringing the total from just eleven at the beginning of the year to thirty-one and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of January 2012.  All have been passed since Washington State's groundbreaking Zackery Lystedt Law was enacted a mere two and a half years ago in May 2009.

As someone who has been working tirelessly for over a decade on the issue of concussion safety in youth sports, it was incredibly gratifying to see so many states jump on the concussion safety bandwagon.  When I spoke to a concussion safety summit in April 2008, I was critical of the lack of leadership by the NFL to that point on the issue, but I am happy to report that has changed: it was no doubt due in no small measure to the backing of the NFL that so many states passed concussion safety laws during 2011, and the league is to be applauded for its lobbying efforts.

The real winners of all the new laws, of course, are the kids.  In the states with strong concussion safety laws, they won't be allowed to play until they and their parents have been provided information about the dangers of playing with, and failing to report, a concussion; no longer will coaches will be allowed to put winning ahead of an athlete's short and long term health by returning them to the same game or practice if a concussion is suspected; and, written clearance from a health care professional with expertise in concussion evaluation and management will be required before an athlete is allowed to return to play, minimizing the chances of a premature return that could not only jeopardize a player's very life, but delay his or recovery for months, even years, and leave him with permanent cognitive deficits.

We still have work to do, of course.  There are nineteen states that have yet to pass strong concussion safety laws. Incredibly, despite all of the attention concussions have received, there are still six states (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, and West Virginia) where no legislation is even pending.

But as we begin 2012, the fact that 20 states passed concussion safety laws in 2011 has to be celebrated, one last time, for the remarkable achievement it represents towards improving the safety of contact and collision sports.

All of us at MomsTeam, and all of you who visit our site each day, will have a very special 2012 indeed if I am able to report this time next year that every single state in the country has followed Washington State's lead. 

Let's work together to make it happen!