(CNN) – Saying he wants to change a culture in youth sports where kids are encouraged to “suck it up” after sustaining head injuries, President Barack Obama on Thursday said it was time coaches and athletes started thinking about better ways to keep kids safe on playing fields.
Obama said he could recall instances during his own days in Pop Warner leagues when a particularly hard hit left him sidelined for a spell.
“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, and at the time you didn’t think anything of it,” he said at an event designed to bring awareness to head injuries in youth sports.
“The awareness is improved today, but not by much,” the President said. “So the total number of young people who are impacted by this early on is probably bigger than we know.”
Concerns about the risks inherent in tackle football and other sports have received a crush of attention in recent years as ex-professional players speak out on their own injuries.
In 2013, the National Football League reached a deal with ex-players to pay over $700 million to fund medical exams, research, and compensation to athletes with concussion-related ailments.
The growing conversation and concern prompted the White House to convene Thursday’s event, the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit.
More than 200 participants, including the NFL, professional athletes and the Pentagon, discussed what can be done to help educate parents and athletes on how to better prevent concussions and protect athletes' brains.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the summit came from conversations he and Obama had regarding the concerns parents had about concussions.
"As parents tend to do, we talk about our kids, and we talk a lot about sports," Carney said.
The White House announced initiatives, including an effort to help start a national concussion database through the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as a $30 million partnership between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Department of Defense to fund the most comprehensive clinical study of concussions among college athletes.
The NFL will commit $25 million to work with the National Athletic Trainers Association to get more athletic trainers in high schools. Currently, about half of all high schools have no athletic trainers on their sidelines.
Researchers say the risks aren’t just for football players – other sports can also cause brain injuries, including non-contact sports like soccer, baseball and cheerleading. Concussions in young athletes, whose brains are still developing, pose a particular concern to health experts.
Some research shows a greater risk for female athletes. Obama was introduced Thursday by a young woman who’d suffered five concussions by the end of her high school soccer career.
Studies have cited a “culture of resistance” among high school athletes to reporting concussions and taking the proper recovery steps after incurring them – a fact Obama said Thursday needed to change.
“We have to change a culture that says you suck it up,” he said. “Identifying a concussion and being able to self-diagnose that this is something that I need to take care of doesn’t make you weak - it means you’re strong.”
Most states have passed some kind of law to either increase awareness of concussions or try to prevent them, and individual districts and youth leagues have taken steps to tamp down on head injuries.
Dr. David Dodick of the Mayo Clinic told CNN the summit would focus unprecedented attention on the issue of concussions and youth athletes.
"It really highlights this as a public health crisis, and elevates this to a national health priority," he said.