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How Obama Wants to Make Sports Safer

The president announced new initiatives Thursday to address the problem of concussions in young athletes.

(Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

President Obama said Thursday that he probably had a few mild concussions while playing football as a boy, but he didn't do anything about them. Now he wants to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to kids today.

The president convened a group of medical experts, top sports officials, parents, and young athletes at the White House on Thursday for the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit—the first event of its kind. He used the event to emphasize the importance of sports for young people as well as the need for greater understanding and attention to the risks of head injuries—and he announced a series of new programs and partnerships dedicated to this goal.

"For so many of our kids, sports aren't just something they do, they're part of their identity," Obama said. "Sports teach us about teamwork and hard work and what it takes to succeed not only on the field, but in life."


But the high rate of head injuries and its negative health impact on young athletes is a major concern for the president, both as a parent and a sports enthusiast. He cited a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found young people make about 250,000 visits to emergency rooms each year with sports or recreation-related brain injuries. And this doesn't include those who visited family doctors, or who didn't report the injuries at all, he pointed out.

"We want our kids participating in sports," Obama said. "I'd be much more troubled if young people were shying away from sports. As parents, though, we want to keep them safe, and that means we have to have better information. We have to know what these issues are. And the fact is we don't have solid numbers, and that tells me that at every level we're all still trying to fully grasp what's going on with this issue."

As a result, the White House is announcing new partnerships and commitments to advance research on these injuries. Among those announced Thursday are:

  • A collaboration between the NCAA and the Defense Department to commit $30 million for concussion education, and a study including up to 37,000 college athletes. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard are set to support the study as well.
  • A dedication by the NFL of $25 million over three years to test various strategies, including holding health and safety forums for parents, and increasing trainers at high school games.
  • A partnership between the National Institutes of Health and the NFL, in which NIH will dedicate $16 million of the NFL's previous donation toward clinical trials and studies to look at long-term effects of repeated concussions.
  • An investment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of $5 million over five years toward the development of better materials for protective sports gear.

The president also focused on the importance of athletes understanding their own symptoms—and doing something about them.

"We have to change a culture that says, 'You suck it up,' " Obama said. "Identifying a concussion and being able to self-diagnose that this is something that I need to take care of doesn't make you weak. It means you're strong."

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