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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Coming into this suburb of Washington, D.C. last Monday night, all the talk was of the NFL’s “admission” before Congress, earlier that day, that a link exists between Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and football.

NFL senior vice president Jeff Miller could just as easily have been Inspector Louis Renault in "Casablanca." Fans of that movie will recall Renault saying he was “shocked, shocked to find gambling going on” in Rick’s Café at the same moment he was accepting his evening’s winnings.

Previous NFL denials notwithstanding, of course there is a link between CTE and prolonged football participation. To quote a real-life World War II hero, Bob Dole, who went on to some notoriety just across the Potomac River from here, “You know it. I know it. The American people know it.”

Consequently, Miller’s words – other than exciting the media and some lawyers – will have no lasting effect on football.

Whether he said them or not, many youngsters and a few adults will continue to play the game. And hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, and wrestling – some of the other sports to which CTE has also been linked.

The goal then should be to make all those sports safer. And not just the collision sports, but others where heart issues, heat illness, and spinal injuries are a risk.

With that as their purpose, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association co-sponsored the seventh annual Youth Sports Safety Summit, here, a week ago.

To start the meeting, NATA President Scott Sailor requested a moment of silence for the 48 athletes between the ages of 9 and 17, who passed away while engaged in a sport in 2015. The two sports with the highest number of fatalities were football (15) and basketball (12). However, given total participation numbers, basketball had the higher rate. The cause of death was unknown in 22 of the cases, heart-related in 13, trauma-related in six, and heat-related in four.

Perhaps most disturbing about those numbers, though, was they were nearly double those of 2014, when there were 25 sports-related deaths among youngsters.

Keynote speaker Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), co-chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, not surprisingly, focused on one topic. “There is no Democrat or Republican way to address concussion,” he said. “We have gone into space and into the belly of the earth. Now is the time to study the brain. What frontiers will that lead to?”

Rebecca Stearns, PhD, ATC, of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) took a broader view, advocating a collaborative approach to better prevent serious sports-related medical events, particularly the life threatening.

Currently working with the governing bodies of most youth sports, KSI has outlined a specific six-step program for leagues to follow that will make their games significantly safer:

1. A venue-specific emergency action plan in place.

2. Formulation of a strategic plan for allocation of resources and emergency equipment.

3. A structure to provide safety-related education and training for all levels.

4. Education for everyone: athletes, coaches, parents, officials, and league administrators.

5. An education and training certification reporting system.

6. A reporting structure for non-compliance.

Stearns said the program is in legal review by each of the various organizing bodies. She hopes it will be in place by January of next year.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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