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White House Summit Focuses on Sports-Related Concussions

At a White House summit on youth-athlete concussions Thursday, President Barack Obama announced a number of new initiatives focused on concussion research and prevention.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U.S. Department of Defense are launching a joint $30 million research partnership to improve concussion safety in both college sports and the military. The National Football League is likewise committing $25 million over the next three years to support youth-sports safety initiatives, in conjunction with the National Athletic Trainers Association, National PTA, and the American Heart Association.

Additionally, the National Institutes of Health is launching a longitudinal research effort to detect the effects of repetitive concussions, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is investing $5 million over the next five years to develop materials that can better protect against concussions.

A number of groups are specifically targeting K-12 athletes, including Pop Warner Little Scholars, which will have 100 teams participating in a research project tracking concussions among their players. The National Federation of State High School Associations is hosting a concussion summit this year, while the National High School Athletic Coaches Association will provide education sessions on concussion during its summer convention.

President Obama spoke about the progress made regarding concussion awareness over the past few years, but noted there's still plenty of work to be done:

Before the awareness was out there, when I was young and played football briefly, there were a couple of times where I'm sure that that ringing sensation in my head and the need to sit down for a while might have been a mild concussion, and at the time you didn't think anything of it. The awareness is improved today, but not by much. So the total number of young people who are impacted by this early on is probably bigger than we know.

Now, I say this not to scare people. We want our kids participating in sports. I'd be much more troubled if young people were shying away from sports. As parents, though, we want to keep them safe, and that means we have to have better information.  We have to know what these issues are. And the fact is, we don't have solid numbers, and that tells me that at every level we're all still trying to fully grasp what's going on with this issue.

The president specifically referenced the 360-page report released last fall by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, which suggested, "There is still a culture among athletes and military personnel that resists both the self-reporting of concussions and compliance with appropriate concussion-management plans."

You don't have to look very far to see what the report is referencing. Just last week, Indiana Pacers star Paul George provided a not-so-welcome reminder of why concussion policies aren't the be-all, end-all when it comes to the prevention and treatment of serious head injuries. After receiving a knee to the back of his head by Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, George remained in the game, despite telling reporters afterward that he "blacked out" and things were "just blurry" after the head impact.

In reference to George's concussion, Heat superstar LeBron James told reporters, "I think every last player in the Final Four would have played through it." Monty Williams, the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, also voiced his frustration about the NBA's new concussion policy back in November 2012 after his star player, Anthony Davis, missed time after accidentally receiving an elbow from a teammate.

The fact is, until there's a surefire way to diagnose a concussion without input from an athlete, there's room for error. Medical staffs can't inject truth serum in potentially concussed athletes, unfortunately, which opens the door for them to hide or lie about concussion symptoms.

The initiatives announced at Thursday's White House summit should hopefully go a long way toward addressing that glaring need. Even though we've discovered a great deal about concussions and neuroscience over the past few years, the more we can learn, the better.

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