By Justin Sink
President Obama said Thursday that he may have suffered from mild concussions while playing football in his childhood.
"When I was young and played football briefly, there were a couple times where I'm sure that that ringing sensation in my head and the needing to sit down for a while might have been a mild concussion, and at the time you didn't think anything of it," Obama said at a White House event designed to highlight the risks of sports-related brain injuries.
"The awareness is improved today, but not by much," Obama said. "So the total number of young people who are impacted by this early on is probably bigger than we know."
Obama said parents, coaches and administrators had a responsibility to make sure student athletes "are able to participate as safely as possible."
The president said a crucial part of that effort was filling in the gaps in concussion research.
"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," Obama said.
Toward that end, Obama announced millions of dollars the administration had solicited from corporate and nonprofit partners to help fund additional research into the risks of repeated concussions.
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."
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.
"We've got to have better research, better data, better safety equipment, better protocols," Obama said. "We've got to have every parent and coach and teacher recognize the science of concussions."
Obama added that the research was important not only for athletes but for the nation's military.
"I've seen in my visits to wounded warriors, traumatic brain injury is one of the signature issues of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Obama said.
Despite the risks associated with concussions, the president repeatedly emphasized that he thought sports played a central role in childhood development.
"First of all, the first lady thinks everybody needs to move," he quipped, referencing his wife's signature policy initiative.
But, Obama said, sports are "fundamental to who we are as Americans and our culture."
"We're competitive. We're driven. And sports teaches us about teamwork and hard work and what it takes to succeed, not just on the field, but in life," he said.