In early May 2010, former Sentinel High School wide receiver Dylan Steigers took a hit during a scrimmage at Eastern Oregon University. Steigers remained on the ground for a moment before walking to the sideline under his own power. Minutes later he was vomiting. After being rushed to the emergency room, doctors diagnosed him with an acute subdural hematoma resulting from a concussion. Steigers, 21, died the next day.
Steigers' high school coach, Pete Joseph, later told a reporter, "[Steigers] was an exceptional, exceptional football talent. He played the game the way it should be played. He had excellent physical tools, he played the game hard, he played the game fast, and he loved football. He played the right way."
But according to Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, "the right way" is exactly what needs re-evaluating. On Jan. 9, Blewett introduced SB 112, or "The Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act," which would require each school district "to adopt a policy addressing the dangers of concussions."
"We need to recalibrate the way we look at brain injuries in youth athletics," Blewett says. "When the brain is involved we want the message to be, 'get the help you need because you're rolling the dice on the rest of your life.'"
Specifically, the bill would work to educate athletic trainers, coaches and student athletes on brain injuries. It would require that "a youth athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion be removed from participation and that medical clearance be obtained prior to returning to participation."
Blewett's bill comes in the wake of mounting concerns over the effects of head injuries in professional sports. In recent years, more than 2,000 former NFL players have filed suit claiming the league withheld information about the risks of chronic brain injury. On Jan. 29 the NFL Players Association announced it would be giving Blewett's alma mater, Harvard University, a $100 million grant to study sports-related brain injuries.
Blewett was a placekicker at Harvard before returning to Montana to play arena football in Billings. "I love the sport of football. I love athletics—the lessons they teach," he says. "But I also recognize that we have the tools available to potentially save lives and reduce traumatic brain injuries."
On Feb. 2, 24 doctors, athletic trainers and coaches testified in favor of SB 112 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee took no immediate action.
UPDATE: After this story went to press, the “Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act” passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will next be debated on the floor of the Senate.
This story was updated Thu., Feb. 7.