Leaders and Laggards: Tackling State Legislative Responses to the Youth Sports Concussion Epidemic

By Chris Lau

Abstract

In 2009, state legislatures began to enact concussion safety laws to protect youth athletes suffering from traumatic brain injuries sustained during the course of play. By 2014, all fifty states and the District of Columbia had enacted some form of youth sports concussion legislation. Yet these statutes vary widely across states in terms of the protections offered to youth athletes. This Note provides an analysis of state legislation by classifying all fifty-one statutes among distinct tiers ranging from least to most protective.

These laws have generally targeted the secondary risks of concussions, which emerge after a youth athlete has suffered a traumatic brain injury. While the prevention of secondary risks is an important element of concussion management, future legislators should also consider the primary risks of concussions by focusing on reducing the risk of injury before it occurs. This Note advocates that, to ensure the adequate protection of all youth athletes, future legislators must continue to prevent secondary risks by expanding coverage and strengthening enforcement mechanisms. In addition, legislators must address the primary risks of concussions by mandating certain rule changes, which, over time, may begin to transform societal attitudes toward the seriousness of sports-related concussions. While many youth sports organizations and even professional sports leagues have begun to implement certain rule changes to increase player safety, these changes would gain greater efficacy if backed by the force of law. This Note lays out recommendations for a model statute to provide guidance for future legislators.