Well, it’s official. The next frontier for brain research isn’t found in some fancy lab rig, and it isn’t about a new way of tracking electrical impulses sent through synapses. No, it’s wearing tight pants and shoulder pads, trotting onto the field after halftime: The next frontier for brain research is concussions, specifically the kind young athletes sustain in the course of regular play. The kind that can lead to depression, learning problems, and even dementia. Last week, the White House brought together goals shared by over two dozen different health and sports programs around the country, as well as $65 million in private money, convening the first-ever White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit.
That means this concussion thing isn’t just some passing fancy in the world of brain philanthropy. While we’ve seen sports-related concussion giving in the past, suffice it to say this is a much bigger deal. I mean, it’s got the White House behind it, for crying out loud! Not to mention $25 million from the NFL itself to promote youth sports safety. The National Institutes of Health is providing a further $16 million to support new ways of detecting and measuring the effects of repeat concussions. The most interesting part is the $10 million from Hollywood executive and New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch to launch the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, which will, among other things, establish a national tracking system for concussions.
Does this sound familiar, at all? Ring any bells? A few months ago, we reported on Seattle Seahawks owner (and Microsoft co-founder) Paul Allen’s $2.37 million gift to Washington State University and his own Allen Institute for Brain Science, to fund research into traumatic brain injuries.
Now we have another football team owner stepping forward and funding concussion research in much the same way—although there’s no denying Tisch’s gift is both larger and more prominent. Maybe Allen’s gift, the first to so obviously link football with traumatic brain injury research, paved the way, making Tisch feel more comfortable. Or maybe having the NFL already on board with the President’s new initiative was the clincher.
Regardless, it would seem we have the beginnings of a trend in brain philanthropy on our hands: Football folk are funding research into the kinds of brain injuries their sport brings about. It’s admirable. Here’s this oversight—athletes’ brain health—and here’s the NFL and others making inroads towards prevention and cure. Cue giant stadium wave.