By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Drew Brees knows he has a dangerous job.
The record-setting quarterback of the Saints is eager to make football safer at all levels. So he's teamed up with PACE (Protecting Athletes Through Concussion Education), a program that provides free concussion testing for more than 3,300 middle and high schools and youth sports organizations.
"Any time you can educate young kids and their parents, especially in regards to concussions and raise awareness, is vital," Brees says. "It's helping them to understand the symptoms and the treatments for concussions and the baseline tests, how you would test to see if someone did have a concussion, making a comparison to the baseline testing such as in the PACE program.
"Every young athlete playing in some physical sport should certainly have the opportunity to take the ImPACT baseline tests."
Brees will headline a panel discussion on the topic Tuesday, joined by former U.S. national goalkeeper Briana Scurry, an Olympic and World Cup champion; Mike Richter, the goalie when the New York Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup; and former Giants LB Carl Banks.
Scurry and Richter both retired in great part due to concussions. Banks has suffered from concussions, and his son recently got a concussion when he was hit by an elbow in a basketball game.
Dr. Mark Lovell, a neuropsychologist and founder of ImPACT, grasps the trickle-down effect of having elite athletes involved in the program.
"Having somebody the stature of Drew Brees is huge, because kids look up to athletes of that stature and that is very important," Lovell said. "When he talks, people listen, particularly youngsters and particularly about something like concussions in an era when there is a lot of talk about that."
PACE is the first national program of its kind, and Lovell hopes to see 4,000 high schools in the near future giving the ImPACT test.
The program was founded by the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation.
"I think this can be a game-changer," Lovell said. "There's a big educational component to make sure people understand what a concussion is. The Dick's Foundation also is making the baseline testing available to schools and kids who would not have access to it otherwise."
Brees, of course, has been involved in a contract dispute with the Saints after the team placed the exclusive franchise tag on him. New Orleans, in turn, has been plagued by the bounties scandal.
During this troubling offseason, Brees says he's concentrated on communicating with youngsters about the importance of being safe while playing sports.
"We all have such a great platform to reach out and connect with so many young athletes who look up to us," Brees says. "We can relay the message in an honest and straightforward way.
"Also, here are the areas we can continue to improve upon, especially in injury and concussion awareness; it's a place to make huge strides. Help to educate those who play the games and the parents of young athletes in ways to identify and recognize and treat your injuries and get you back on field 100 percent and safe and sound."
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