Obama to spotlight risks of head injuries in sports

WASHINGTON Wed May 28, 2014 8:39pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to Maria Haynes, of Santa Cruz, California, talk about her concussion cushion football helmet as he hosts the 2014 White House Science Fair in the Blue Room at the White House in Washington May 27, 2014.    REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to Maria Haynes, of Santa Cruz, California, talk about her concussion cushion football helmet as he hosts the 2014 White House Science Fair in the Blue Room at the White House in Washington May 27, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will host a conference highlighting the risks of head injuries to young athletes on Thursday, seeking to use the power of his office to promote awareness of ways to avoid and treat concussions, White House officials said.

The president is drawing on his own enthusiasm for sports both as a player and a spectator and his concern as a father to convene the gathering, officials said. The event will assemble representatives of professional and collegiate sports, athletes, coaches, researchers and children, the officials added.

"The president is a big sports fan," said White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri. "There's not enough that we know about concussions and how they relate to young athletes."

The four major professional U.S. sports leagues, governing football, baseball, hockey and basketball, bring in about $23 billion in revenue each year and sales of sports equipment in the United States are valued at $42 billion annually.

Awareness of the long-run health effects of concussions in sports has jumped in recent years, particularly in football.

The NFL agreed in August to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of former players, many suffering from dementia and health problems. They accused the league of hiding the dangers of brain injury while profiting from the sport's violence.

A judge in January rejected the deal, saying it might not be enough to pay all of the affected players.

Obama, whose fondness for watching sports on television is well known, has said in interviews he would have reservations about letting a son play football if he had one. He has two daughters.

The event is due to spotlight several initiatives to study head injuries in sports, aides said. The NCAA and the Department of Defense are due to launch a $30 million study of ways to reduce concussions in sports and the military.

The NFL will spend $25 million over the next three years to promote youth sports safety, the White House said.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Tom Brown)

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