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Parents of Son Who Played After Concussion Speak Out

The parents of a high school football player who suffered an apparent concussion the week before a New Mexico state championship game last month maintain he never suffered a concussion.

Peter and Erica Nieto, the parents of Cleveland High School star running back Shawn Nieto of Rio Rancho, N.M., spoke to The Washington Post about why they filed a motion in district court in an attempt to have him play in that week’s title game.

Related: Player with Concussion Plays in State Championship

The Nietos disputed the school doctor’s diagnosis that their son suffered a concussion in Cleveland’s state semifinal game. According to New Mexico state law, a student-athlete who suffers a concussion is not allowed to play the following week. The Nietos received a second opinion from another doctor, who said Shawn Nieto did not suffer a concussion. The judge granted a temporary injunction and allowed Nieto to play in the state title game.

The Nietos say the team doctor and school officials were being overcautious.

“That’s the bogey-man blanket they’re throwing in sports now,” Peter Nieto told the Post. “…We’re not rookies. We know what a concussion is.”

Peter Nieto later added: “If something looks bad, it doesn’t mean it’s really that bad, you know. This just happened at an emotional milestone in our son’s life, so we were going to do whatever we thought we could to get his voice heard, to not lose this opportunity.”

Shawn Nieto, who ran for 931 yards and scored 18 touchdowns during the season, appeared in Cleveland’s 48-35 victory for only a fourth-quarter kickoff. He told the Post that many students at his school did not understand why his parents went to court to allow him to play, “and the school hallways this winter have not always been pleasant,” according to the story.

All 50 states have passed laws related to concussions in youth sports, but New Mexico’s statute, passed in 2010, is one of the toughest, the Post reported.

“This concussion law is just one size fits all,” Erica Nieto said of New Mexico’s statute. “It’s expected to fit every situation, and it really does not allow for how to address a conflict — how do you get an independent evaluation? There’s no wiggle room at all, and I think there needs to be.”

Bruce Carver, athletic director for Rio Rancho Public Schools, also told the Post that “there’s no wiggle room,” but for a different reason. “If somebody thinks it is [a concussion], we go the safe road and keep him out,” Carver said.

Dr. Karen Ortiz, the physician who cleared Shawn Nieto to play after the Nietos sought a second opinion from her, later said in a letter sent to Rio Rancho Public Schools and the New Mexico Activities Association that she would never have cleared him to play had she known he had lost consciousness the previous week after suffering a blow to the head. The letter was dated Dec. 5, the day of the state championship game.

A spokesperson for Ortiz’s employer, Lovelace Health System, said the doctor could not comment on the case, citing privacy concerns, the Post reported. Neither the Nieto family nor the judge say they have ever seen the letter, according to the newspaper.

Related: Update: Doctor Rescinded All-Clear for Concussed Player

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