Obama turns to concussion research

President Obama will announce millions in new funding for concussion research and prevention efforts during a summit on the topic Thursday, according to the White House.

That will include a $30 million joint effort between the Pentagon and NCAA for what the White House described as “the most comprehensive clinical study of concussion and head impact exposure ever conducted.” 

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The National Football League will also pledge an additional $25 million over the next three years to support partnerships promoting youth sports safety, including efforts to expand access to athletic trainers for student athletes and education programs designed to teach students about the risk of sports injuries.

And the National Institute of Health will launch a new research study to detect, characterize and measure the chronic effects of repetitive concussions. That project, funded through an initial $16 million investment from the NFL, will study tens of thousands of college athletes in hopes of learning more about how concussions occur and what effects they have. 

The announcements will come at a sports summit featuring athletes, coaches, academics, and parents held at the White House. Fox Sports commentator Pam Oliver will moderate a discussion on concussion safety, and a local football and girls' soccer team will participate in sports safety drills on the South Lawn.

The summit, White House officials say, was borne out of the president's own concerns as a sports fan and a parent.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he and the president began discussing concussions during flights on Air Force One together.

“As parents tend to do, we tend to talk a lot about our children,” Carney said.

The spokesman said the chats were “similar to conversations he's had and I've had with other parents,” including a discussion of the health risks stemming from concussions inflicted during sports.

“This is a perfect opportunity for the White House and the president to bring people together, convene people, focus a spotlight on a topic of conversation around the country,” he said.

White House communications director Jen Palmieri said that while the administration was encouraged by the corporate and nonprofit donations to concussion programs, they hoped the event would also raise awareness about the issue among parents.

“Our focus here is on giving parents information they need to help make judgments about how their kids can be safe and participate in the sports they want to do,” Palmieri said.

She stressed that the president believed “it's very important his own daughters and kids across the country participate” because of the health benefits, teamwork, and discipline required by sports. But, Palmieri said, “I know he as a parent is concerned about the safety of his own daughters.”

The president told The New Yorker earlier this year that he'd be reticent to allow his son, if he had one, to play professional football because of the risk of concussions.

More than 4,500 former NFL players have sued the league over its handling of concussions, which doctors say can be associated with permanent memory loss and behavioral changes.

Concussions have also been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease.

The NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement with attorneys representing the former players last summer, under which it did not admit any liability or that brain injuries were the result of playing football.

A federal judge has not yet approved the deal over concerns the payout, which would be split among former players and medical researchers, would not be enough.