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Morehouse’s David Satcher leads national effort to combat youth concussions

Soccer and basketball concussions are a concern, as well as football

Four days before Christmas 2015, Dr. David Satcher went to a movie screening.

His initial review: Perhaps this movie will disseminate his message in ways that he couldn’t. Expand the reach; broaden the base.

The movie was the much-anticipated Concussion, starring Will Smith, and was released on Christmas Day to the general public.

“I felt it was a very valuable movie,” Satcher told The Undefeated. “If you just rely on listening to people like me, it won’t have near as much of a lasting impact. Watching the movie will have more of a lasting impact. It reaches more people and people will remember that movie.”

While the movie focused more on the concussion discussion in the NFL, Satcher’s mission is to increase national awareness not only in pro football but also in youth sports.

To him, using every vehicle for disseminating the message helps.

“The issue of concussions isn’t being taken seriously enough for children before they reach college age,” said the 75-year-old Satcher, who graduated from Morehouse College in 1963.

Most observers probably know Satcher as the 16th U.S. Surgeon General, having served under the presidential administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In 2006, after leaving the federal government, he founded The Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse College School of Medicine in Atlanta. Satcher’s institute is designed to develop a top-notch group of diverse health leaders and help reduce disparities in national health care.

In 2013, his institute spawned the creation of the National Council on Youth Sports Safety (NCYSS), which is now a freestanding organization.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 38 million youths participate in precollegiate organized sports in the nation, according to NCYSS. Of that figure, approximately 248,000 children under 19 are treated annually for traumatic brain injury or concussions, and reported concussion incidents have increased by more than 60 percent in the last decade.

One disturbing finding in concussion research, Satcher said, is the gender factor. Satcher, who attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said that in sports participation common to both boys and girls, studies show girls are at a higher risk for concussions than boys.

Such higher risk is found in basketball and soccer.

“We don’t know why for sure,” Satcher said, “but the prevailing theory involves the lack of upper-body strength in girls, generally speaking. That could be a factor. It could be related to the lack of strong neck muscles in girls, because neck muscles can have an effect on the brain. You don’t have to be hit directly in the head or the brain to suffer a concussion.”

In 2015, Satcher’s NCYSS launched the Protecting Athletes and Sports Safety (PASS) program. PASS has held clinics and panel discussions called Community Huddles on Concussions as part of a two-year national tour, including one event that featured former NFL player and ESPN commentator Marcellus Wiley and former NBA star A.C. Green last year in Los Angeles.

As many youths prepare to return to school this fall, concussions are again a concern.

“There is a growing movement to not allow our youth to play football before age 15,” Satcher said.

Former New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred at South Carolina State University, testified on the issue of age restrictions in May before the New York State Assembly in Albany.

The charismatic Carson told the state legislators: “I’ve sort of made the decision, as the dictator of my family, that my grandson was not going to play football. He understands where I’m coming from. He’s not going to be playing football; I get him involved with other sports.”

Carson appeared as a special guest of New York Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D-Bronx), who was advocating for a bill that would outlaw tackle football in New York state for children age 13 and under.

Satcher reiterated, “Concussions at an early age in our youth have to be taken more seriously.”

Gregory Clay is an editor, writer and television/podcast commentator focusing on current news events. Based in Washington D.C., he has worked at Newsday and McClatchy and once gave a speech at a convention for the Texas State Bar Association.