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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and Soccer's World Cup

Obama to Host Sports Concussion Summit

The White House supports new funding for youth-focused head injury research



Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pres. Barack Obama has his head in the game—that game being football. And soccer. And actually any sport that fuels an elevated risk of head injury, as will be the focus of a summit set for Thursday on sports concussions. The gathering of some 200 sports officials, clinicians, parents, coaches, school officials and youth athletes will feature discussions on how to address head injuries in youth sports as well as new biomedical findings on youth concussions. The meeting comes after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council last fall released a report on sports-related concussions, laying out significant gaps in concussion research and highlighting a concerning paucity of information on concussions in youth athletes.

The conference, “Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit,” is set against a backdrop of mounting concerns about the health impacts of sports-related head injuries, especially among children. A new report published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this month found that head injuries led an estimated 2.5 million people to visit a U.S. emergency room in 2010, and about one third of the cases were children.

The event for Thursday grew from conversations between the president and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, according to administration officials. Carney and Obama are parents of relatively young children, and they also tend to talk about their shared love of professional sports. Carney’s son wants to play football and his daughter plays soccer, he told reporters on a press call.

The goal of the summit is to raise awareness about when youth players need to be taken out of a game to prevent further brain injury. Many of the new research efforts that will be rolled out by private partners and the federal government aim to fill the gaps identified by the IOM report.
 
Along these lines, the Department of Defense and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) plan to launch a $30-million effort to fund studies on concussion and head-impact exposure among college-age athletes with a multisite longitudinal clinical study on concussion risks, treatment and management. By the third year of the study some 37,000 college-age athletes should be included, according to administration officials. The NCAA and Defense also plan to produce new education materials and identify targets for affecting change in the culture and behavior of college student–athletes and young adults at risk of concussions.
 
The National Football League is also committing another $25 million over the next three years to support projects aimed at promoting youth sports safety and pilot programs to expand access to athletic trainers in schools. (The league already committed $30 million to head-injury research.) In addition, the National Institutes of Health will also announce a new longitudinal research study to measure the chronic effects of repetitive concussions. That effort will be supported by $16 million of the previously announced NFL funds.
 
The IOM report had also pointed out that there continues to be no good data set on youth concussion rates or way to conduct good regular surveillance in this area. To that end, the White House will announce that the University of California, Los Angeles, will launch a $10-million effort that will support initial research informing the development of a future national surveillance system that would contain accurate figures about the incidence of youth sports–related concussions.
 
Professional athletes, too, have rallied around addressing concussion issues in recent years. Last year the NFL and thousands of players who sued the league for concussion damage reached a settlement for $765 million. The memory lapses players think are linked to the hits they took on the field can start relatively young. Brett Favre, the former NFL quarterback, said in an October 2013 interview with a Washington, D.C., radio station that at the age of 44 he could not recall an entire season of his daughter’s youth soccer games. 
 
Players have also noted a culture that prompts them to keep playing or come back too soon after a concussion. Despite “return to play” laws now in place in all 50 states, which typically mandate youth and high school athletes must leave the field if they are suspected of having a concussion and return only after a medical examination by a health professional, the incentive to keep playing—especially if students are trying to impress recruiters—remains strong, and players may not admit their concussion symptoms.
 
At the summit Pres. Obama will be introduced by a female soccer player who has suffered a number of concussions, according to the White House. “Our focus here is on giving parents information that they need to help make judgments about how their kids can be safe,” said Jennifer Palmieri, White House communications director. “Our focus is not on professional sports.”

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