NFL donation helps launch institute on sports health, safety

SEATTLE (AP) Dr. Stan Herring found a personal calling when he helped champion the first youth concussion law in the country in the state of Washington.

Similar laws were eventually enacted in all 50 states and during that process, Herring and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen started pondering the next steps in promoting the benefits of youth sports while helping to make them as safe as possible.

One of those steps was taken Wednesday when the University of Washington launched the Sports Health and Safety Institute, tasked with advancing research, education and treatment of a variety of sports-related injuries.

The institute is being launched in part because of a $2.5 million donation from the NFL.

The primary focus will be on youth sports, though there will also be research on how to make professional athletes healthier and safer. The institute's goal is to raise $10.5 million to study various issues.

''I think we have a real chance here to be internationally relevant on this important issue,'' Herring said. ''I think there are many unique factors around this institute that make it very special. I think the timing is really right for this.''

Ellenbogen and Herring will serve as the institute's leaders. Ellenbogen is the chairman of neurological surgery at the University of Washington and co-chairman of the NFL head, neck and spine committee.

Herring is the team physician for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners and serves on the NFL committee.

They view its purpose as mounting a public health campaign with an overarching goal to make sports safer.

''To me, I think we need to study not only how to prevent injury but also understand what the health benefits of sports are. From a global health perspective it provides us leverage into their everyday lives of things that we can help them do to be healthier,'' Ellenbogen said. ''We know the benefits of sports far outweigh the risks. But what are the things that we can do to make them healthier and what are the risks we can mitigate to make the sports safer.''

The impetus for the institute came more than a year ago when Ellenbogen organized a symposium in New York at NFL headquarters that pulled together health and safety leaders from various leagues and organizations around the world and highlighted some of the challenges each faced in keeping their athletes healthy and safe.

''We said, `Why don't we do research together? Why are we all little silos?' The goal was to break down the silos and discuss among ourselves what works and what are the salient questions,'' Ellenbogen said. ''If you are a parent, are they asking the same questions in England that they're asking in America that they're asking in Brazil that they're asking in Pakistan?''

Initially, there will be a specific emphasis on concussions and traumatic brain injury. Herring was one of the main advocates for Washington's Zackery Lystedt Law that mandated education for coaches about concussion symptoms, removal from a game if a head injury is suspected and written clearance to return.

''There are a number of ways we can improve the youth sports experience for the kids that are playing it and the NFL thought that being the foundational contributor to an independent institute that can do this work on a full-time basis would be the best possible way to influence change quickly,'' said Jeff Miller, NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy.

Herring and Ellenbogen would like the research and education to expand beyond concussions to issues like sudden cardiac arrest, obesity in children, juvenile diabetes and other health concerns that can come from inactivity among children.

''Can we use sports to lower the diabetes rate or manage the hypertension issues?'' Ellenbogen said. ''So I think my perspective is to look at it as an injury prevention mechanism, the things that we can do better, but (also) the health benefits.''