Each year, more than 3 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States. And given the rise in competition and competitiveness in sports at all levels, concussions and head injuries are happening with greater frequency.

Yet, it's a health issue that the public — and parents in particular — is only beginning to get its head around. In many cases, players, parents and coaches downplay the significance of head injuries in hopes that "toughing it out" will be in the best interests of the player and their team and that there will be no long-term impacts.

A growing body of evidence suggests otherwise.

Given that, we applaud Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, for hosting a community hearing Wednesday evening on the growing problem of concussions, with an emphasis on how to identify them and prevent them.

Among those who will be speaking are former 49er linebacker Keena Turner, now vice president of football affairs for the 49ers, and former 49er Ben Lynch, an offensive lineman who starred at Analy High School and Cal and is now a member of the advisory board member of the California Concussion Coalition. Physical trainers and a orthopedic surgeon also will speak about concussions and how to respond to them.

When Thompson hosted a similar forum in Santa Rosa in October, more than 100 people showed up.

It's an issue that even the National Football League is finally beginning to take seriously now that it has been sued by more than 3,000 former players. In general, they contend the NFL failed to inform them of the dangers they faced on the field and failed to protect them against concussions.

But isn't that why many people watch football? To see players get their "bell rung" in high-impact collisions? Sadly, yes. And it's taking its toll.

Last year, the journal Neurology reported the results of a study of more than 3,400 retired pro football players that showed NFL veterans are three to four times more likely than the general public to die from brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Studies on football and hockey players are also looking into the links between sports and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease often associated with severe depression and dementia.

But the problems are not just limited to pro sports. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that concussions occur in 47 out of 100,0000 player games in youth football. The second highest sport with the most such injuries? Girls soccer, with 36 concussions per 100,000 player games.

The growing body of medical evidence and public health opinion overwhelmingly demonstrates the need to take concussions in sports and recreational activities seriously.

Nonetheless, many coaches of young players — as well as parents — have shown a reluctance to alter playing time or routines based on head trauma. It remains something to be shrugged off. It's our hope that community discussions like the one planned by Thompson will ensure they won't be.

Tonight's session will be held in the American Canyon High School gymnasium beginning at 6:30 p.m.