WASHINGTON — President Obama said Thursday that he may have suffered a mild concussion more than once while playing football as a child, recalling a “ringing sensation” in his head that he shook off.
Four decades later, during a White House conference on the rising problem of traumatic brain injury in sports, he used the story to call upon parents, coaches and fans to stop expecting athletes to “suck it up.”
“There were a couple of times where I’m sure that that ringing sensation in my head and the need to sit down for a while might have been a mild concussion,” Obama said. “At the time, you didn’t think anything of it. The awareness is improved today, but not by much.”
Now, Obama said, Americans need to change the sports culture to take such injuries more seriously.
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The event brought together representatives of professional and college sports associations, coaches, parents, young athletes, doctors and others.
The president was introduced by Victoria Bellucci, a high-school graduate from Huntingtown, Md., who suffered five concussions during her high-school and club soccer career. Bellucci said her injuries made it hard to focus on assignments.
“Concussions have drastically altered my life,” she said.
Nearly 250,000 kids and young adults visit hospital emergency rooms each year with brain injuries caused by sports or other recreational activity, Obama said. He noted that the figure excludes those who see a family doctor or seek no treatment.
He has spoken about head injuries in sports before. He told an interviewer last year that if he had a son, he would think “long and hard” before letting him play football. His two daughters are active in various sports, including basketball and soccer.
But as new statistics and anecdotal evidence came to light in the past few years, Obama began consulting fellow football fans on his staff about whether they had a responsibility to help raise consciousness. The result was Thursday’s conference, where participants revealed monetary commitments to research. The NCAA and the Department of Defense are launching a $30 million fund to improve concussion-safety practices in college sports and the military. The NFL has pledged $25 million in the next three years for youth-sports safety.
Obama said he intended to keep shining a spotlight on a problem that affects Little League players and the country’s most admired military and sports heroes alike. On Thursday, he said sports are a crucial part of the American identity, and that
is all the more reason to try to make games safer for children and professionals alike.
“Sports are vital to this country, and it’s a responsibility for us to make sure that young, talented kids … are able to participate as safely as possible.”
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.