The first White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit was held last Thursday in the East Room. The summit was held in response to the alarming number of concussion related injuries in sports. As the father of two athletic daughters, President Obama has decided to elevate the conversation to a more visible place. His message during the summit was that it is high time to give the issue of concussions the serious regard necessary to effect change and an improvement in the current statistics.
The president was introduced by Tori Bellucci. She is a high school senior who was Huntington High School’s star soccer player. After she suffered five concussions, Bellucci turned down a scholarship to Towson University and walked away from the game.
The President, in speaking to over 200 athletes, parents and sports leaders, reminded his audience that concussions are not just limited to the football field. These types of brain injuries are not only affecting grown men. Girls and boys who play soccer, hockey, football, lacrosse and even wrestlers, get concussions.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 250,000 brain injuries to young people, resulting in a trip to an emergency room, were reported last year. President Obama pointed out that these statistics do not even include those who go to their family physician or the ones who do not seek medical attention.
Colorado is home to High School Reporting Information Online which is a surveillance system for injuries. According to their records, the only sports with a higher rate of concussions than girl’s soccer are boy’s hockey and football. Numbers since 2008 show that girl’s soccer at the high school level report, on average, 14 concussions per 10,000 games. That is almost double the average in boy’s soccer. Reports from football show 27 per 10,000 games and in boy’s hockey there were 18.
The sad irony of the scenario is that many children love to play their chosen sport. The First Lady is a huge proponent of getting kids off the couch and into the field in her efforts to end childhood obesity. President Obama also mentioned the sense of community and identity involved with sports. They are a major part of American culture. Sports are more than just about being physically active or physically fit, they also teach the values of hard work, dedication and how to be a team player.
The president is right in his assessment of the value of sports. There are, however, alternatives that may be less dangerous. Many sports do not risk life-long brain damage while still instilling valuable lessons. While efforts are made to improve safety standards in the more dangerous sports, perhaps the White House could begin showing support for track and field, swimming, golf and the myriad of other sports that are not as controversial when it comes to the potential for concussions.
Indeed, the popularity of sports like hockey, soccer and football means that there will be no complete eradication of them from children’s lives. There must be major changes made to the way in which these games are played that will not risk so much concussive damage to still developing brains.
Recognizing when a concussion has occurred and seeking medical treatment are important steps toward improving the situation. Unfortunately, a concussion cannot be cured. Once the damage is done, there are few mitigating options. When President Obama said that a change to the common theme in sports that says athletes must “suck it up,” is needed, he was right again.
As the scientific and medical study of concussions becomes more of a focus, a change in perspective could create a message to the powerful industry of sports that the industry itself needs to “suck it up” and accept defeat. Unless changes are made to ensure a certain level of safety for player’s brains, perhaps the games should not be played at all. That is a sad thing to have to contemplate and yet the safety of the nation’s athletes, both young and mature, must be taken into consideration. Hopefully, the first White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit was not the last and the summit will have a tangible positive effect on the prevalence of sports related concussions.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy