Youth sports concussions draw Obama's attention

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May. 29, 2014 3:24 AM EDT
By Darlene Superville

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Youth sports concussions draw Obama's attention
Maria Hanes, 19, of Santa Cruz, Calif., left, and President Barack Obama, right, watch as two cushioned helmets bump together as Obama toured the 2014 White House Science Fair exhibits that are on display in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Hanes was explaining how she developed a concussion cushion football helmet. Obama was celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this Thursday, May 21, 2009, file photo, President Barack Obama plays with a football as he walks back to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Concerned that too little is known about the effects of head injuries in young athletes, President Barack Obama is bringing representatives of professional sports leagues, coaches, parents, youth sports players, researchers and others to the White House Thursday, May 29, 2014, to help educate the public about youth sports concussions. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
** HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL MONDAY AUG 30, 2010 UNTIL 12:01 A.M. EDT. THIS PHOTO MAY NOT BE POSTED ONLINE, BROADCAST OR PUBLISHED BEFORE 12:01 A.M. EDT. ** In this photo taken Friday, Aug 27, 2010, Evan Nolte, 16, a high school basketball player is pictured in his home in Milton, Ga. Nolte suffered a concussion last season which had him sequestered to his house for two weeks, exercising as little brain stimulus as possible. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Kia LaBracke holds up a picture of her son in her home Friday, May 18, 2012, in Oconomowoc, Wis. LaBracke is concerned about her kids playing football in the wake of NFL concussions. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
FILE - This Aug. 4, 2012 file photo shows new football helmets that were given to a group of youth football players from the Akron Parents Pee Wee Football League, in Akron, Ohio. It's not just football. A new report says too little is known about concussion risks for young athletes, and it's not clear whether better headgear is an answer. The panel stresses wearing proper safety equipment. But it finds little evidence that current helmet designs, face masks and other gear really prevent concussions, as ads often claim. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
In this photo made Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010, players line up during a 6th grade youth football game in Richardson, Texas. Some of the boys play with a new type of football helmet designed to reduce the risk of concussions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NFL - Jake Plummer answers questions from Juneau Youth Football players about his football career at Heads Up Safety Clinic on Friday, Aug. 30, 2012 in Juneau, Alaska. Plummer was in Juneau to promote safe football practices to prevent concussions and other injuries. (Brian Wallace/AP Images for NFL)
young boy grimaces as he attempts to hit a soccer ball with his head.
17 year old Brady Bender of Steamboat Springs explains what he remembers from the hit to Karen McAvoy PsyD at the Center for concussion at Rocky Mountain Hospital for children as she evaluates his condition while being treated for a concussion from an out of state hockey tournament. Joe Amon, The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is a lover of games played on hard courts, baseball diamonds and in 10-yard increments. His two daughters are active in sports and, like many parents with children on athletic teams, he worries about their safety.

But unlike many of those parents, Obama is uniquely positioned to help address the concerns.

At the White House on Thursday, Obama was hosting a summit with representatives of professional sports leagues, coaches, parents, young athletes, researchers and others to call attention to the issue of youth sports concussions.

Not enough is known about how the injuries may affect still-developing brains, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council said in a report last fall, and the issue concerns the president.

Obama once said he'd "have to think long and hard" before allowing a son to play football because of the risk of head injury.

At the summit, Obama will also highlight millions of dollars in pledges and other support from the NFL, the National Institutes of Health and others to conduct research that could begin to provide answers and improve safety.

"He, as a parent, is concerned about the safety of his own daughters," said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri, one of several officials who previewed the White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit for reporters.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head. One can also be caused by a strong body blow that jostles the brain around inside the skull. Nearly 250,000 kids and young adults visit hospital emergency rooms each year with brain injuries caused by sports or other recreational activity, the White House said.

Among the largest financial commitments Obama is expected to announce is a $30 million joint effort by the NCAA and the Defense Department to produce research on concussion risks, treatment and management. Concussions and other types of brain injuries are an issue for service members, too. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, was to participate in the summit.

The NFL is committing $25 million over the next three years to promote youth sports safety.

The NIH is undertaking a new research effort on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions, work supported by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through an initial investment of $16 million from the NFL.

UCLA will use $10 million from New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch to launch a program to study sports concussion prevention, outreach, research and treatment for athletes of all ages, but especially youth. The money will also support planning for a national system to determine the incidence of youth sports concussions.

The Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, called for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish and oversee such a system to begin to help provide answers to questions about the risk of youth sports, such as how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions and which sports have the highest rates.

After Obama opens the summit, Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion with Odierno and others. In the afternoon, Obama planned to participate in sports drills on the South Lawn with kids from local YMCA programs.

In a 2013 interview with The New Republic, Obama said football may need to change to prevent injuries.

"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," Obama said. "And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much."

The NFL recently agreed to pay $765 million to settle concussion claims from thousands of former players whose complaints range from headaches to Alzheimer's disease. That settlement is still awaiting a judge's approval, while a group of former professional hockey players has filed a class-action lawsuit of their own against the National Hockey League for head injuries sustained on the ice.

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