With the focus on concussions in young athletes intensifying across the nation, the White House on Wednesday unveiled a raft of initiatives aimed at preventing mild traumatic brain injury and improving its diagnosis and treatment in children.
Readying for a White House event Thursday focusing on youth sports and brain safety, officials announced a fresh commitment of $65 million in private funds to boost clinical and scientific work.
In addition to $30 million from the NCAA and a new pledge of $25 million from the NFL for separate endeavors, a $10-million gift to UCLA from Hollywood executive and New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch will help get a national tracking system for concussions off the ground.
“Hopefully, 20 years from today, athletes won’t be discovering the head injuries that football players now are discovering they may have gotten when they were playing in high school and college,” said Tisch, whose son plays high school football and whose daughter plays lacrosse. “This is kind of a new frontier.”
Tisch’s donation will sustain and expand a university program that since 2012 has treated 600 young patients with brain injuries and studied the after-effects of concussions in middle school, high school and college athletes.
“This commitment will launch our program to the next level,” said Dr. Christopher Giza, a pediatric neurologist and director of the newly named UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSport Program. In the coming years, Giza said, the program hopes to broaden its reach into schools and youth sports leagues across the region; fuel advances in diagnosis, care and recovery; and clarify the longer-term effects of concussion on the still-developing brain.
In a briefing Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said reports that concussions may set the stage for learning problems, mental health issues and even dementia have made parents wary of allowing their children to participate in organized athletics.
In late 2013, President Obama reflected that growing concern, saying that if he had a son, he would not let him play pro football. But given the Obamas’ interest in sports and the first lady’s campaign to boost physical activity among the nation’s children, Carney said, the president has been eager to raise awareness and boost research on something that “really is a topic of conversation across the country.”
A report last fall by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine found significant gaps in what is known about the effects of repeated blows to the developing brain.