Concussion awareness benefits, protects young athletes

Pro and college football are taking the injury more seriously.

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Last year Washington state adopted a law regulating when athletes in high school and youth sports can return to games after having sustained a concussion.

The law, known as the Lystad Act, prohibits athletes under 18 suspected of sustaining a concussion from returning to play without a licensed health-care provider's approval. The law is considered to be the nation's most stringent. The act is named after a 16-year-old high school football player who suffered a life-threatening brain injury in 2006 after he returned to the field following a concussion.

This law applies to all sports, not just football. But football, given the game's violent collisions, is where it is most often applied. Or, at least, should be applied.

The fact is many young athletes, their coaches and even their parents find ways around the law. It's part of the tough-guy, gut-it-out football culture. Football players play through pain and injury. That sometimes means hiding symptoms from trainers and doctors.

The Lystad Act is a step in the right direction, but it isn't enough. The culture has to change.

And that can only be done if role models, those in college and professional football, lead by example.

That's starting to happen more and more as several NFL players who have suffered concussions actually report lingering symptoms.

And, increasingly, we see this happen in college football.

At Washington State University, football team physician Dr. Ed Tingstad -- a former WSU player -- has shown a willingness to overrule the head coach, Paul Wulff, when he suspects a player still has lingering symptoms from a concussion. Wulff -- a teammate of Tingstad's at WSU -- was vocal about his frustration with the number of players being held out of games.

"It seems like every two or three weeks, guys are getting these concussions that are quote, concussions. Since I've been here, we're getting more concussions than I've seen in my entire life," Wulff said.

Wulff's irritation is understandable. The Cougars had a lousy season and he was desperate to have top-notch players on the field.

Nevertheless, Wulff and the WSU administration continue to do the right thing. They let the doctor do his job, which is to protect the players from serious injuries.

As the culture changes in pro and college football -- albeit slowly -- it will make it far easier for high school and youth coaches to take players off the field -- and keep them off.

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