The Miami Dolphins will pay to have approximately 15,000 Miami-Dade public high school athletes undergo baseline concussion tests as well as get other benefits during the 2017 school year.
At a time concussions and their effects have been the focus of professional and college sports, the Dolphins are helping expand the attention to local prep sports by helping fund parts of the University of Miami Countywide Care High School Program for Miami-Dade public schools.
The testing, affecting boys and girls in sports and activities including football, soccer, wrestling, basketball, baseball, and cheerleading, will establish baseline brain parameters for the athletes. That will give doctors a vital tool to use as a comparison should any of the athletes sustain a concussion during their season.
The Dolphins’ sponsorship, which will be announced sometime next week, will also help pay for counseling, education and a workshop on concussions through a program run by the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute and KiDZ Neuroscience Center at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
“It’s amazing and so proactive and intelligent of [the Dolphins],” said Dr. Gillian Hotz, the director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute’s concussion program. “They’re loving their community like the community loves them. It’s a great partnership with the university, and it shows other teams around the country what they can do in their communities.”
UM and the country’s fourth-largest public school system have worked together to catalog and treat concussions in local high schools and for every sport, an undertaking that was a pioneer nationally. Since the initiative began in 2012, the incidents and outcomes of approximately 1,000 concussions have been recorded, according toHotz, the director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute’s concussion program.
The Dolphins say they intend to help fund the program indefinitely beyond 2017 and will work during the coming year to expand their funding to Broward and Palm Beach County schools.
That would be something of investment in the NFL’s future because South Florida high school football teams have historically fed talent into the NFL at rates higher than any other region nationally.
Dr. Hotz said 65 percent of the known concussions since her program began have been sustained by football players.
In a January 2016 story, the Miami Herald reported that UM’s data showed linebackers and wide receivers were the most likely football players to sustain concussions; that concussions in girls’ sports increased 160 percent from 2012 to 2015; and that the average time required for football players to get over their symptoms was 13 days.
The baseline testing is now a part of the Miami Dolphins Foundation’s Youth Programs platform. Those programs underwent a significant revamping in the offseason when club president and CEO Tom Garfinkel asked Jason Jenkins, the team’s senior VP for communications and community affairs, to improve and increase the Dolphins’ presence and reach with youth programs.
Jenkins went to head coach Adam Gase and the two came up with ideas that ultimately put football players from high schools in Miami-Dade and Broward County at the team’s training facility. The prep teams, bused in from all over the region, watched the Dolphins practice when no one else was allowed to watch. Dolphins coaches talked with the youth coaches. And the professional players talked to and offered advice to teams and individual youth players.
“After last season we had a meeting and we talked about how we wanted to be more involved in the community,” Gase said recently. “This was something Jason was extremely passionate about and him coming to me opened my eyes a little bit to what’s been done in the past, where are we at now, and what can we do going down the road.”
The Dolphins hosted two and sometimes three high school teams during their OTA practice days. Gase estimates he spent time with “8 to 10 local coaches” during that time — even as he was coaching his team.
And the coach believes the visits from the teams was mutually beneficial because it improved the pace and tempo of his team’s practices.
“We didn’t think about this when we invited those teams to come out, but it changed the atmosphere of practice,” Gase said. “You could tell guys really enjoyed the fact the kids were out there. There was a different attitude going on. A lot of guys maybe realized this could be the only time some of these kids could get to see me play live. Our guys did a great job putting their best foot forward. They put on a show.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero