The new University of Washington center will focus on youth sports concussions and a range of research, education and advocacy into issues surrounding athletics.
A $2.5 million donation from the National Football League (NFL) will kick off the newly formed University of Washington Medicine Sports Health and Safety Institute aimed at advancing research, education and advocacy to prevent sports-related concussions.
The center, announced Wednesday at Husky Stadium, also will bring together experts from across the Seattle campus to share insights about ways to make sports safer and healthier for people of all ages. It has a larger fundraising goal of $10.5 million.
“We’re trying to make this something which is a credible, vibrant and growing institute,” said Dr. Stanley Herring, medical director of the UW Medicine Sports, Spine and Orthopedic Health program.
“What may be unique about this situation is the combination of different departments and different programs taking advantage of expertise,” he said, noting that faculty from the departments of neuroscience, sports medicine, global health and engineering will be involved.
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The UW Medicine donation is the NFL’s first-of-its-kind gift for concussion education and advocacy, spokeswoman Joanna Hunter said. Previously, the league has donated money for large research projects.
In 2012, the league gave $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for science designed to benefit athletes and the general public, including members of the military.
It also helped launch the Head Health Initiative in 2013, which provided $40 million over four years for research and development into the problem, plus a $20 million challenge fund to invest in related research and technology.
The NFL has been embroiled in a lawsuit filed by former players who claim the league hid the dangers of concussions for years, allowing players to develop severe neurological disorders as a result of the injuries. Retired players could see potential payouts of $1 billion after a settlement agreement earlier this year, depending on the results of appeals.
The UW institute will be led by Herring and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chairman of UW Medicine’s Department of Neurological Surgery.
The two direct the UW Medicine Sports Concussion Program at Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children’s. In addition, Ellenbogen chairs the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, and Herring, who’s on that committee, is team doctor for the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Mariners.
Ellenbogen was tapped by Seahawks owner Paul Allen to lead a $2.4 million collaboration between scientists at the UW and the Allen Institute for Brain Science on a project aimed at looking for brain changes related to traumatic-brain injury.
Organizers at the new UW institute will focus first on sports- and recreation-related concussions, which affect an estimated 3.8 million people in the U.S. each year and send about 173,000 kids to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Concussions, once shrugged off as part of football, have received substantial attention in recent years, particularly regarding injuries involving young players. But more education and advocacy are needed, Herring said.
“I hope on the brain-injury piece, we get to the point where it is unacceptable not to report the signs and symptoms of a concussion,” he said.
The institute was inspired by the experience of Zackery Lystedt, of Maple Valley, who was permanently disabled after he suffered a concussion during a junior-high football game in 2006 — and was sent twice back into play. His family settled with the Tahoma School District for $14.6 million, an attorney said.
He was the inspiration for the state’s 2009 Zackery Lystedt Law, which bars youth athletes from returning to play or practice without a licensed health official’s written approval. It has since been adopted in every state.
Victor Lystedt, Zackery’s dad, said he’s excited about the vision and promise of the institute — and the support of the NFL.
“I’m really, really proud of what the NFL has done,” Lystedt said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand what their commitment has been to do the hard right thing. They get beat up so much. People are so ignorant of what the game of football has done to change the view of what people need to do to manage concussions.”
Lystedt said he hopes there’s a way for his son to be “actively engaged” with the new institute.
While the center will initially focus on concussions, research will also look at other issues surrounding athletics such as sudden cardiac arrest, heat and hydration, and mental health. The list will include what Herring called “rampant inactivity of young people,” which contributes to obesity and other ailments.
“The biggest public-health problem is them not playing sports,” he said. “We’ll be working on the reactivation of our young people.”