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WEB EXTRA: Athlete Concussions

Last Spring, Ryan Brennan (pictured L) was an outgoing student, and an avid rugby player, looking forward to graduation from college. But after a September 2012 kick to the head during a rugby practice, he now faces a far different future.

He has been disabled since last August and suffers from extreme fatigue and sensitivity to light. He can still walk-- but only a few paces at a time. After his injuries, he once went an entire month without sleep, and has dropped out of his senior year in college.

As the nation debates the safety of sports, Brennan is the example no parent wants to cite. The 22 year-old from Orchard Park suffers from debilitating Post Traumatic Concussion syndrome. His injuries brought an onslaught of frightening and life threatening symptoms.  

ON AIR THURSDAY MORNING:  Hear  his mom Colleen tell the story of his daily struggles . 

"All concussions are traumatic brain injuries.. this thing spiraled into just a real nasty ordeal with numerous symptoms," she said in a series of interviews with John Zach & Susan Rose Thursday morning.   HEAR BRENNAN's STORY   

On The WBEN Liveline
Dr. Elad Levy, MD, Kaleida Health
The NFL's consultant on neuroinjuries

COMPLETE COVERAGE:  At The White House | California Takes Action Against Contact Sports | Insight from former Sabre Mike Robitaille | Helmet Rating Info | More on Ryan Brennan and his Benefit

WHITE HOUSE SUMMIT: President Obama loves basketball, baseball and football. His two daughters are active in sports and, like many parents athletic teams, he worries about their safety on the field.

But unlike most parents, he s uniquely positioned to address the concerns.  

At the White House on Thursday, Obama was hosting a summit with representatives of professional sports leagues, coaches, parents, young athletes, researchers and others to call attention to the issue of youth sports concussions.

Some of the commitments President Barack Obama will announce Thursday at a White House summit on youth sports concussions:


- The NCAA and the Defense Department are launching a $30 million effort to produce research on concussion risks, treatment and management.

- The National Football League is committing $25 million over the next three years on promoting youth sports safety, including support for new pilot programs to put more athletic trainers in schools.

- The National Institutes of Health will undertake a new research effort on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions, work supported by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through an initial investment of $16 million from the NFL. The funding, together with grants announced at the end of last year, fulfills a $30 million commitment the league made to the institutes in 2012.

- With a $10 million investment from New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, UCLA will launch the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program to target sports concussion prevention, outreach, research and treatment for athletes of all ages, especially youth. The money will also support planning for a national system to determine the incidence of youth sports concussions.

- The National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest $5 million over five years as part of the Materials Genome Initiative to accelerate development of advanced materials that can provide better protection against concussions for athletes, service members and others.

- Pop Warner Little Scholars will participate in a research project modeled on a system that tracks concussions and concussion trends in high school sports.


- Safe Kids Worldwide, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, will host more than 200 sports safety clinics for parents, coaches and young athletes across the country, including education on concussions. The Brain Injury Association of America, in collaboration with SAP, will build an online application to help students, parents and educators better understand when to return to class after a concussion.

- USA Cheer will unveil a new Head Injury Protocol to more than 300,000 cheerleaders and their coaches this summer to teach them how to prevent, identify and seek treatment for suspected head injuries. Updated cheerleading guidelines designed to reduce head injuries also will be released.

- U.S. Soccer will employ a chief medical officer to work with the medical community and experts in the field of concussion management and prevention.

- The National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes playing rules for high school-level sports, will host a concussion summit this year focused on best practices to minimize injury risks in high school athletes. The National High School Athletic Coaches Association will provide education sessions on concussions at its summer convention.

- The CDC will promote use of a new app to help parents learn how to recognize concussion symptoms and what to do if they think their child has a concussion.

Not enough is known about how the injuries may affect still-developing brains, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council said in a report last fall, and the issue concerns the president.

Obama once said he'd "have to think long and hard" before allowing a son to play football because of the risk of head injury.

At the summit, Obama will also highlight millions of dollars in pledges and other support from the NFL, the National Institutes of Health and others to conduct research that could begin to provide answers and improve safety.

HEAR MORE: CBS's Peter Maer on The WBEN Liveline

"He, as a parent, is concerned about the safety of his own daughters," said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri, one of several officials who previewed the White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit for reporters.

  Responding to parental safety concerns, the California Assembly last week passed legislation limiting full-contact practices for high school football teams. READ MORE  BELOW

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A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head. One can also be caused by a strong body blow that jostles the brain around inside the skull. Nearly 250,000 kids and young adults visit hospital emergency rooms each year with brain injuries caused by sports or other recreational activity, the White House said.

Among the largest financial commitments Obama is expected to announce is a $30 million joint effort by the NCAA and the Defense Department to produce research on concussion risks, treatment and management. Concussions and other types of brain injuries are an issue for service members, too. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, was to participate in the summit.

The NFL is committing $25 million over the next three years to promote youth sports safety.

The NIH is undertaking a new research effort on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions, work supported by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through an initial investment of $16 million from the NFL.

UCLA will use $10 million from New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch to launch a program to study sports concussion prevention, outreach, research and treatment for athletes of all ages, but especially youth. The money will also support planning for a national system to determine the incidence of youth sports concussions.

The Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, called for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish and oversee such a system to begin to help provide answers to questions about the risk of youth sports, such as how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions and which sports have the highest rates.

Responding to parental safety concerns, the California Assembly  passed legislation limiting full-contact practices for high school football teams.

The bill  passed on a 50-22 vote and now heads to the Senate. It has the support of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school athletics.

Sponsor Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said he was motivated by the growing anxiety from parents about the risks associated with concussions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, writing in support of the bill, said head injuries from football may lead to long-term brain damage and early-onset dementia.

"There are just a lot of parents today who are worried about what happens if my kids get in these sort of sports," Cooley said in an interview after the bill passed.

The California bill limits drills involving game-speed tackling to 90-minute sessions twice a week, while prohibiting such full-contact drills in the offseason. It also applies to private and charter schools.

Most coaches already abide by similar rules to protect student safety. "There's really not a big uproar about this because it really is nothing new for our coaches," said Brian Seymour, a senior director with the federation.

Seymour's group also updated its bylaws earlier this month to limit total practice time to 18 hours per week for high school football players.

At the college level, the Ivy League and Pac-12 Conference have reduced full-contact practices to cut down on injuries.

Most of the votes against the bill came from Republican lawmakers and some Democrats questioning whether the issue merits state attention.

"Coaches, the schools, the parents are well-equipped without the state's involvement to determine what's best for that team, for their players," said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

Cooley responded that his bill only limits certain types of practice and that Texas has even stricter rules. That state, the setting for the popular television drama "Friday Night Lights," allows just one 90-minute full-contact session a week.

The legislation also references middle schools, although flag football is by far the most common form of the game played at that level in California. Cooley's bill would not apply to private youth leagues such as Pop Warner.

After Obama opens the summit, Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion with Odierno and others. In the afternoon, Obama planned to participate in sports drills on the South Lawn with kids from local YMCA programs.

In a 2013 interview with The New Republic, Obama said football may need to change to prevent injuries.

"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," Obama said. "And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much."

The NFL recently agreed to pay $765 million to settle concussion claims from thousands of former players whose complaints range from headaches to Alzheimer's disease. That settlement is still awaiting a judge's approval, while a group of former professional hockey players has filed a class-action lawsuit of their own against the National Hockey League for head injuries sustained on the ice.
Robitaille: Concussion Summit Step in Right Direction

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) Former NHLer Mike Robitaille can't begin to count how many concussions he had during his career, which included four years with the Buffalo Sabres. Robitaille says he like the steps taken to help avoid concussions in youth sports.

"That type of concern about concussion wasn't even a concern going back to when I was playing. A lot of time has passed and they finally woke up," says Robitaille. "I know I was in the hospital twice, so I know I had two concussions. I know there were three or four other times I couldn't fall asleep and I was sick to my stomach, which are symptoms. There was no concern, it was about getting you back on the ice."

Robitaille says the youth concussion summit is moving in the right direction. "Go ahead and parents can be comfortable that their kids will be taken care of. It won't be like before and now if a kid goes down and hits his head he'll be checked out before he plays again," believes Robitaille.

He also believes there's another reason organizations are doing this. "There's a legal aspect," notes Robitaille. "That's the key to everything as far as the NHL and other organizations are concerned. They have to protect themselves and don't put themselves in a position where they think they're doctors and they're not."

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