This week’s death of a 17-year-old high school football player in Spokane is a sobering reminder of the risks of playing contact sports, particularly football.
Andrew Swank of Spokane’s Valley Christian School took a single blow to the head in a game against Lacrosse-Washtucna. He later died in a Spokane hospital.
This sort of tragic injury is rare. Generally, head injuries — concussions — are less severe. But if they are not treated properly and players return to the playing field too early, the chances of permanent damage or death increase dramatically.
And that’s why earlier this year Washington state adopted a law regulating when high school athletes can return to games after having sustained a concussion. Brain-injury advocates call this law the nation’s toughest.
The law prohibits athletes under 18 suspected of sustaining a concussion from returning to play without a licensed health-care provider’s approval.
It also requires all school districts to work with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to develop a standard for educating coaches, players and parents of the dangers of concussions and head injuries.
Locally, football coaches at high schools and middle schools have been taking head injuries extremely seriously. Players are immediately removed from games or practices if there is even a hint that helmet-to-helmet contact occurred. And the coaches work with parents and medical professionals to make sure the player is free from any symptoms of a concussion for a significant period of time before returning to the field. It usually means sitting out the rest of a game and perhaps several practices.
That’s a big change from the past when athletes eager to get back in the game were allowed to if they didn’t display obvious symptoms right then and there.
In 2006 a 13-year-old boy in Western Washington suffered permanent brain damage after returning to the field minutes after suffering a concussion.
It was because of this incident that the Legislature adopted the new law. It appears to be applied with sound judgment by local coaches and school officials. They seem to be putting the health and best interests of the kids first.
The fatal injury to Andrew Swank was a fluke and couldn’t have been prevented by this law — or any law — but over time the concussion law will serve to prevent young athletes from having permanent or fatal brain damage.