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School Pulls Player for Concussion; Parents Sue to Get Him Back on Field

The Short of It

After suffering a concussion during a semifinal school playoff game, football player Shawn Nieto was told he'd have to miss the following week's state championship. So his parents hired a lawyer and filed a motion in court to plead with a judge to let their son play in the title game.

The Lowdown

According to school officials, Shawn was knocked unconscious for 20 to 30 seconds after he was pulled down by a horse-collar tackle and smacked into by another player before hitting the ground. Trainers said he suffered a concussion, which meant under state law that he had to sit out seven days to recover. Shawn maintains he never lost consciousness, however, and his parents insist he never had a concussion.

"We're not rookies," dad Peter, who has coached high school football, told The Washington Post. "We know what a concussion is."

Trainers gave Shawn a memorization test, and he correctly recalled two of the three words he was told to remember. He said he was distracted watching the game and missed one. He was also given a balance test, which he said he passed. After the game, he reportedly told his parents he felt fine, joined his team for the bus ride three hours back to school, and drove home alone.

School district officials say they were just following the law and protecting Shawn by keeping him out of the game. But the boy's parents say the school district violated his constitutional right to due process, his state constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities, and interfered with his educational opportunities.

When a state judge heard the case last month, he granted Shawn a temporary injunction and allowed him to play in the state title game.

The Upshot

This case underscores the confusion surrounding what exactly does and does not constitute a concussion—a debate that gets particularly heated when it concerns children playing football. Youth leagues across the country have recently changed the way they teach football, and states are now passing laws to ensure high schools monitor player safety better, even as researchers are still trying to understand the risks the game might pose to young people.

"We really don't yet have the level of science that we need," Gerard Gioia, who heads the division of pediatric neuropsychology at Children's National Medical Center and directs the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education Program, told the Washington Post. "We don't know what the difference is between a 7-year-old brain taking a blow or hit versus a 13-year-old versus a 17-year-old. We really need those studies to be done."

What do you think? Should Shawn have been allowed to play?

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