On Thursday, President Barack Obama hosted a “Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit” at the White House.
Well Mr. President, to quote Paul Henreid’s Victor Lazlo addressing Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca, “Welcome to the fight.”
In his remarks, the President admitted, “There’s a lot of concern, but there’s a lot of uncertainty.
“The awareness is improved today, but not by much,” he continued. “So the total number of young people who are impacted by this early on is probably bigger than we know.”
Fortunately, the President didn’t succumb to alarmists. “We want our kids participating in sports,” he said. “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 … 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 only solution to such uncertainty is research. Such research, has been ongoing for two decades. However, the President announced several new public/private multi-million dollar projects involving the Department of Defense, NCAA, NFL, and National Institutes of Health, among others.
While research continues, though, so do the concussions. The vast majority of sports-related concussions occur at the high school level. And the best-documented strategy for detecting and managing them is to have an athletic trainer present.
Nonetheless, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), only 55% of high school student-athletes have daily access to one. To improve that number, the President also announced an initiative to place athletic trainers in underserved high schools.
The federal government, however, will be providing none of the funding. Instead, the National Football League Foundation and the NFL itself will contribute $1M and the NATA another $125,000.
Unless other medical associations and professional leagues, major college conferences, health insurers, and government bodies step up, the program will be largely symbolic.
According to the US Department of Education, there are more than 37,000 high schools nationwide. If 55% are served by an athletic trainer, then roughly 16,000 aren’t.
The salary and benefits for one athletic trainer cost upwards of $50,000 per year. That is a relatively small sum for improved health care and overall safety. Still, when multiplied by 16,000, the annual cost of placing an athletic trainer in underserved high schools would be upwards of $800M.
That may seem like a prohibitive number to you and me.
But not to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He is shelling out $2B for the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise valued by Forbes at only at $575M. In mid-May, the Milwaukee Bucks sold for $550M. Just last week, the Southeast Conference announced member schools would share $292.8M in profit from bowl games, television contracts, conference championship tournaments, and the NCAA basketball tournament. Pity the poor Big 12, whose members will be splitting only $220.1M.
In short, the money is there. But is there the political will to re-direct enough to improve the safety and therefore preserve the future of these games that are currently generating all this revenue? The mothers of today’s youth athletes, who ultimately hold the future of these sports in their hands, await an answer.
John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.