High school football player sitting on the bench when head down

High School Athlete Concussion

Rashaun Council and his family will receive some compensation for the terrifying and tragic events that unfolded when Council played football for Monte Vista High School as a freshman.

Council, then 14 years old, suffered a concussion during a game in 2013, but coaches failed to recognize the traumatic brain injury (TBI) or remove him from play, delaying his treatment and worsening the toll it took on his body. The bright young boy was a star on both the football and track teams and had a 3.9 GPA, with his future stretching promisingly ahead of him when the incident occurred and derailed his plans. Instead of running in touchdowns on the field, Council lay in a hospital bed, unable to walk and in a medically-induced coma.

Now the Grossmont Union High School District has agreed to pay Council and his family $7.1 million in a settlement. It’s an amount that that many feel is fair for a TBI lawsuit concerning an individual who had the course of his life altered by coaches who were expected to know what to do in the face of a TBI but failed to keep their athlete safe.

Monte Vista High School Coaches Didn’t Pull Student Suffering Concussion from Game

The lawsuit alleged that the Monte Vista High School football coaches had numerous signs that Council was in trouble, but that they failed to recognize—or failed to appropriately respond to—those signs, instead prioritizing the outcome of the game.

Council was a freshman during the October 2013 game when he sustained the concussion. A teammate approached the coaching staff to say that something seemed wrong. Council was making strange decisions on the field—such as receiving a punt and throwing it out of bounds—and the teammate was worried.

“The coaches shushed him,” a deposition used in a March 2017 tentative ruling said. Council was kept in the game through its end.

Vomiting and Headache Weren’t Enough Evidence of TBI to Motivate Coaches to Call 911

It was also a teammate who noticed, 15 to 20 minutes after the game that Council had vomited and appeared unwell. A coach went to speak to Council, who told the coach that he had a headache. The coach proceeded to ask him questions to assess his condition, according to court documents, and the school district says Council’s answers were coherent and correct.

Council showed common signs of a concussion, however. He vomited and had a headache, and his legal team argued that the coach should have called 911 at that point. The only call made was instead to Council’s mother, and it was Terry Council, his father, who came to get his son and see if he needed medical assistance.

Terry Council found his son slumped over in the school’s locker room with his head between his legs and his body covered in vomit. It was only then that Council’s father took him to the hospital.

High School Football Player Was Put in Medically-Induced Coma, Endured Numerous Surgeries

Once at the hospital, doctors discovered that Council had a concussion and a subdural hematoma—one of the deadliest types of head injury. His brain was already beginning to swell, and immediate emergency surgery was required to save his life.

Following the initial surgery Council was put in a medically-induced coma and eventually received multiple surgeries to treat his injuries.

The road to recovery was long and progress slow. Nine months after the game, Council still couldn’t walk, had vision problems, and had just been taken off of a ventilator. It was unclear if he’d ever be able to live a normal life.

Multi-Million Dollar High School Athlete Concussion Award to Compensate for Drastically Altered Lifestyle

There was a time when Council’s future seemed to inevitably include sports and, in all likelihood, promising scholarships. He was the fastest sprinter for his age group in the entire state of California and the star player on his football team. His grades were good enough that academic pursuits were equally encouraging. Instead, Council had to take a year off from school and focus his energy on trying to heal—a monumental task given the damage his brain had sustained.

He eventually returned to high school, but this time at Clairemont High School, a school that offers a program for TBI survivors. Now 19 years old, he’ll graduate in June of 2018 and hopes to then attend Mesa College.

Despite this impressive progress, life is never the same after a traumatic brain injury. Though able to walk, he’s unlikely to ever be able to drive and may never live alone because of constant confusion and forgetfulness. His vision continues to be impaired, and a future in sports is entirely out of the question.

His $7.1 million settlement will help him achieve new goals, but will never replace what he lost.

Study Shows Dangers of Playing Through a Concussion

One of the biggest arguments in Council’s case against the school district was that the delay in diagnosing him and getting him treatment was a critical mistake that drastically worsened the outcome of the incident. Council’s attorney argued that the freshmen coaches—none of whom had completed state-required concussion training due to a loophole in the system—prioritized the game win over Council’s well-being.

A recent University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program study found that when high school athletes (across a range of sports) kept playing after suffering a concussion, the recovery time was twice as long as it was for the athletes who immediately stopped playing once receiving a brain injury.

Advocates Seek Federal Regulation as Youth Concussions Double

Council’s TBI was extreme, but he has plenty of company when it comes to youth athletes who have sustained concussions. Between 2005 and 2015 the rate of concussions in that group more than doubled, to about 300,000 concussions annually.

This concerning figure has led advocates, including many parents of young TBI victims, to speak out for stronger safety regulations in youth sports. The battle has been a slow one, with only 21 states requiring coaches to be trained to recognize concussion symptoms as of 2017 and no federal regulation in place on the matter.

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