How Obama Wants to Make Sports Safer

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

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19: U.S. President Barack Obama greets players as he visits a little league baseball game at Friendship Park May 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
May 29, 2014, 8:50 a.m.

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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