WASHINGTON — Saying he wants kids to play sports but play safely, President Barack Obama called Thursday for more research into the effects and treatment of concussions in young athletes.
But without direct authority over leagues, Obama's ability to address the issue is limited to calling for research and trying to jump-start a national conversation to teach parents, coaches and young athletes about concussions — the goal of a summit he hosted at the White House.
Obama said a new attitude is needed when players who have been hit don't feel wimpy for sitting out a game or two.
"We have to change a culture that says you suck it up," Obama said, adding he probably sustained mild concussions as a young football player. He noted concussions also are an issue in soccer, hockey, lacrosse and other contact sports.
The event brought together representatives of pro and college sports associations, coaches, parents, young athletes, doctors and others.
Obama was introduced by Victoria Bellucci of Huntingtown, Md., who suffered five concussions during her high school and club soccer career.
Victoria said the concussions made it hard to focus on school. She eventually turned down a scholarship to Towson (near Baltimore) and instead will attend Flagler (in St. Augustine) in the fall, the White House said.
"Concussions have drastically altered my life," she said.
Obama, an avid sports fan whose two daughters are active in them, also highlighted millions of dollars in pledges from the NFL, the National Institutes of Health and others for research that could provide answers and improve safety.
"We want our kids participating in sports," he said. "As parents, though, we want to keep them safe."
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 the figure excludes those who see a family doctor or seek no treatment.
Obama previously waded into the debate over concussions last year, saying he'd have to think "long and hard" about allowing a son to play football because of the risk of head injury.
Among the pledges Obama highlighted are a $30 million joint research effort by the NCAA and Defense Department and the NFL's $25 million over three years to promote youth safety.
UCLA will use $10 million from New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, who attended the summit, to launch a program to study sports concussion prevention, outreach, research and treatment for athletes of all ages but especially youth. The money also will support planning for a national system to determine the incidence of youth sports concussions.