When MomsTEAM launched its Youth Sports Concussion Safety channel back in 2001, I suspected that people at the time must have thought the time and energy a team of experts, MomsTEAM staff, and I spent on the topic of youth sports concussions bordered on the obsessive, especially as no other youth sports website, much less the mainstream media, was talking about it at all back then.
If I had told them then, that one day, fourteen years later, sport-related concussions had become a national obsession, to the point where some were questioning whether football as we know it would still be around in another 10 years, and that I would be speaking at the United Nations of all places at a day-long concussion symposium about what MomsTEAM, MomsTEAM Institute, and I were doing to help save the game of football with a solutions-based concussion risk management program called the Six Pillars, which MomsTEAM unveiled in an hour-long documentary still running on PBS stations around the country, they surely would have called me crazy.
Yet there I was doing exactly that. This past Wednesday, I travelled to New York City (a busy place under the best of circumstances, but a madhouse during Super Bowl Week), where I was honored to be a panelist at the #C4CT (Coalition For Concussion Treatment) conference at the United Nations. The panel was moderated by one of my favorite journalists, Andrea Kremer, chief correspondent for Player Health and Safety for the NFL Network, and was titled, "Future of Contact Sports."
#C4CT was quarterbacked by former NFL player, Jack Brewer, and his talented team at Brewer Sports International, and brought together some of the brightest minds in the concussion realm. (for a list of speakers, click here)
While I enjoyed all the speakers, the ones I most liked hearing were Dr. Bob Cantu, who was MomsTEAM's concussion expert from 2001 until 2007, and Leigh Steinberg, who I had not seen speak since he invited to me to be the keynote speaker at his National Sports Concussion Summit back in 2008. He did an excellent job of pulling all the talk together.
Here's a video of the second half of the conference (my presentation starts at about 1 hour 51 minutes and you may need to refresh browser to load video).
Focus on solutions
While concussion awareness and attention from the mainstream media have increased exponentially over the past 14 years, I am hoping that the next 10 years will see a shift in the focus from the concussion problem to concussion solutions, from shining a light, not on what is wrong, but instead, as we do at MomsTEAM, on what is right and what we can do right now to make football and all contact and collision sports with a risk of head injury safer, both by reducing the risk of concussions but by doing a better job of identifying concussed athletes, seeing that they are removed from play and evaluated as soon as possible, and by making sure they get the cognitive and physical rest they need to return to the classroom, and, eventually to sports.
As I listened to more than nine hours of speakers, it was not lost on me that I still have a lot of work to do. Also not lost, at least on me, was that we were meeting at the United Nations, whose Conventions of the Rights of the Child has yet to be ratified by two countries: Somalia and the United States. I wrote about the CRC in my book, Home Team Advantage, back in 2006, and continued to be guided in my efforts to make youth sports safer by the principle it sets out: that our children, all of our children, not just those who are the victims of family abuse and neglect, but those who play sports as well, a fundamental duty of care.
Left to right: High school student and concussed athlete Alicia Jenson, former NFL running back Clinton Portis, Brooke de Lench, and former NFL player and head of Brewer International, Jack Brewer.
As the classic Virginia Slims commercial said years ago, "We've come a long way baby." But, to quote Robert Frost, we also have "miles to go before we sleep."
I know I won't sleep easy until I know that every kid who plays sports is safe as he or she can be. It's our duty. It's my passion. And it's my committment to the children of America.
Brooke de Lench is the Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author, blogger, and documentary film producer. Her most recent film, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer," is airing on selected PBS stations in 2014.
You can email Brooke @ delench@MomsTeam.com and follow her on Twitter @brookedelench.