White House Concussion Summit Puts Focus on Youth Sports

Emily Lea Berry

May 29, 2014

President Barack Obama announced today several new partnerships that will put around $86 million toward funding new research and development in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of traumatic brain injury, especially in young athletes.

The Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit at the White House was attended by members of Congress and senior leadership from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League, US Soccer, and the National Football League (NFL), as well as brain experts and physicians from across the United States.

"We [at the White House] decided, Why not use our convening power to help find more answers" to many questions posed by parents and coaches, as well as the military, Obama said. The new partnerships announced include:

  • The NCAA and Department of Defense will commit $30 million for concussion education and a study that Obama called "the most comprehensive clinical study of concussion ever," involving up to 37,000 college athletes.

  • The NFL will give $25 million during the next 3 years to test strategies such as creating health and safety forums for parents and to get more trainers at high school games.

  • The National Institutes of Health, in its partnership with the NFL, will dedicate $16 million of the NFL's previous donation to studies and clinical trials on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions.

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest $5 million during the next 5 years to explore the development of lighter, more responsive equipment to protect athletes.

  • New York Giants Chairman Steve Tisch will personally donate $10 million to expand the BrainSPORT Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, which does research on treating sports concussions in youth.

Obama said the leaders of the concussion summit can agree on 2 things: Sports are vital to the United States, and it is their responsibility as leaders to make sure young people play sports safely.

President Obama is introduced by Victoria Belluci, who suffered from a concussion while playing high-school soccer, of Huntington, Maryland, at the White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit. Larry Downing/Reuters

"For so many of our kids, sports isn't just something they do, it is a part of their identity, which is a good thing.... Sports [are] just fundamental to who we are as Americans and our culture. We are competitive; we are driven. Sports teaches us about teamwork and hard work and what it takes for us to succeed on and off the field," said the president.

He pointed to new data that showed 250,000 emergency room visits were made in 2009 by young people with brain injuries from sports and recreation. He noted that this did not include children who saw their family physician or did not seek any medical help at all.

"The total number of young people who are impacted from [concussions] early on is probably bigger than we know. I say this not to scare people. We want our kids participating in sports. The fact is, we don't have solid numbers, and that tells me that at every level we are still trying to fully grasp what is going on with this issue," Obama said.

"Culture of Resistance"

The president also called out the "culture of resistance" in youth sports, in which young athletes are not willing to report a concussion to coaches or parents, as noted in a report covered by Medscape Medical News.

"We need to change a culture of 'you have to suck it up.' Identifying a concussion and being able to self-diagnose doesn't make you weak. It means you are strong," Obama said.

Reports of concussions among young athletes have risen, which may be a result of players, parents, and coaches being aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions, the president pointed out.

In a statement, Timothy A. Pedley, MD, president of the American Academyof Neurology (AAN), applauded President Obama's call for greater awareness of sports concussion.

"As the trusted authority on diagnosing and managing concussion, the AAN is supportive of the initiatives the White House announced today, including a national concussion database and a partnership between the Department of Defense and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to fund a $30 million, widespread clinical study of college athletes," Dr. Pedley said.

"You only get one brain, and it's important to treat it well, and follow the American Academy of Neurology's guideline recommendations on sports concussion," he said.

Among the most important of these recommendations is that any athlete suspected of concussion should immediately be removed from play, he added. AAN sports concussion guideline coauthor Christopher Giza, MD, represented the Academy at the summit, along with professional football player Ben Utecht, who had a career-ending traumatic brain injury in 2009 playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The AAN Web site has more information on concussion, the statement notes (www.aan.com/concussion) and a new app, Concussion Quick Check, to quickly help coaches and athletic trainers recognize signs of concussion, the AAN statement adds.

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