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 to help educate the public about youth sports concussions.
Tackling the issue at a White House summit Thursday, Obama also will highlight pledges of money and other support from the NFL, the National Institutes of Health, the Pop Warner Little Scholars and others to do the research, promote safety and speed development of materials designed to provide better protection.
Obama comes to the issue through his well-documented love of sports, and as the father of two daughters active in sports. The president thinks sports are also a good way to keep kids healthy and out of trouble, but he raised some eyebrows last year by saying he would "have to think long and hard" before letting a son, if he had one, play football because of the risk of head injuries.
"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 and Safe Sports Concussion Summit for reporters.
In a report last fall, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council called for a national system to track sports-related concussions and begin answering questions about the risks of youth sports, such as how often do the youngest athletes suffer concussions or which sports have the highest rates.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head. Concussions also can be caused by body blows that cause the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull. Nearly 250,000 kids visit hospital emergency rooms each year with brain injuries caused by sports or other recreational activity, the White House said.
The pledges Obama will announce Thursday are designed to start gathering the needed data.
Among the largest commitments, the NCAA and the Defense Department are launching a $30 million effort to produce research on concussion risks, treatment and management. Concussions and other types of brain injuries are an issue for U.S. service members too. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, was to participate in the summit.
The National Football League 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.
With a $10 million investment from Steve Tisch, UCLA will launch a program named for the New York Giants co-owner to target 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 report had called for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish and oversee such a system.
Pop Warner Little Scholars, a private youth league, will participate in a research project that tracks concussions and concussion trends in high school sports.
After Obama opens the summit with remarks, Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion that includes Odierno. In the afternoon, Obama planned to participate in sports drills on the South Lawn with kids from local YMCA programs.
Obama said in a 2013 interview with the New Republic that 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 has 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 have filed a class-action lawsuit of their own against the National Hockey League for head injuries sustained on the ice.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press