The National Football League understands the popularity of its sport and has accepted this as a social responsibility to take on the difficult topics of total health and safety. Yesterday I spent the day at the head offices of the NFL, learning about the proactive stance that the league is taking to reduce the incidence of concussions not just in football but in all sports and for youth around the country. They recently committed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for medical research on the brain and have set aside $100 million for research in the coming years. Jeff Miller, VP of Government Relations and Public Policy for the NFL also shared that as a result of the NFL’s efforts, 42 states have now passed concussion laws. These laws will not only help football players but participants in all sports. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said, “We do it to make a difference in football, in all sports and, we hope, beyond.”
At yesterday’s event we heard from Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football, official youth football development partner of the NFL, a non-profit organization that leads the development of the game with resources such as equipment grants, educational programs and league volunteer background checks. USA Football runs Heads Up Football, an extensive program that promotes safer tackling, proper equipment fitting and concussion awareness courses throughout the country, strengthening how the sport of football is coached and governed on both youth and high school levels.
Yet the bottom line is that in addition to all of the incredible work that the NFL and USA Football are doing with regards to youth health and safety, parent and player involvement is vital to the reduction of concussions. Since the frontal lobes of the human brain continue to develop until approximately age 25, reducing youth concussions will ensure optimal neurological development and limit the long term repercussions which can occur from sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a mom and head injury consultant, said that parents of children in any sport can begin by asking about the league’s concussion protocol. All leagues should have one. If they do not have one, more information can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/concussion.
Parent involvement is more important now than ever with kids “choosing” their sports earlier and earlier. The pressure to get into college and succeed at high school sports can cause coaches, parents and kids to look past the signs and symptoms in order to get back on the field. Players need to be taught to watch out for one another and must feel comfortable telling a coach if they or their teammate took a hard hit or does not seem quite right.
Additionally, we as parents need to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion. It is estimated that up to half of athletes who sustain a concussion do not report feeling any symptoms immediately after the injury. While symptoms may appear right away or may appear days or months after the injury took place. Contrary to popular opinion, one does not have to be knocked out to have a concussion. In fact, only about 10% of concussions result in unconsciousness, so as an advocate for your child (and all children) it is important to know all the signs and symptoms.
What’s more, parents need to be aware because the majority of childhood concussions do not occur on the playing field but rather on the playground or in the home. According to the CDC, almost half a million emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries are made annually by children aged 0 to 14 years. Studies show that if an individual has already received one concussion, they more likely to receive a second one and if a person has had two concussions, they are more likely to receive a third one, and so on. And, guess what? Research also shows that females are up to twice as likely as males to sustain a concussion.
Thank you to the NFL, not just for their strong commitment to health and safety, for starting a conversation that will ultimately improve the lives of all children.