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President Obama: I've Probably Had 'Mild' Concussions

President Barack Obama plays with a football as he walks back to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on May 21, 2009. Charles Dharapak / AP file

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he probably had multiple "mild" concussions when he played sports — and thought nothing of it at the time.

Obama spoke as he kicked off a daylong summit on concussions at the White House. To help shine a brighter light on the issue, the president brought together researchers, parents, coaches, professional athletes and sportscasters.

Obama recalled multiple times playing sports when he got a ringing in his ears, which he said might have been "a mild concussion" that he didn't think about. And he suspects others may have had concussions but not realized they had a brain injury.

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“So the total number of young people who are impacted early on is probably bigger than we know,” he added. “The fact is we don’t have solid numbers and that tells me that at every level we’re all still trying to grasp what’s going on with this issue.”

The hope is that the summit will help educate parents and focus a spotlight on the need for more research on how to prevent, identify and respond to brain injuries in children while still promoting the value of team sports.

"Sports teach us about teamwork and hard work and what it takes to succeed not only on the field, but in life," President Obama said as he kicked off the summit. ""We want our kids playing sports…as parents though, we want to keep them safe."

Across the country, Obama said, parents are having a “troubling conversation, and that’s about the risks of concussions. Every season you’ve got boys and girls who are getting concussions in lacrosse and soccer and wrestling and ice hockey, as well as football. And, in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in the most recent data available to us, young people made nearly 250,000 emergency room visits with brain injuries from sports and recreation — 250,000. That number obviously doesn’t include kids who see their family doctor or, as it typical, don’t seek any medical help.”

Obama announced a host of initiatives designed to expand our understanding of concussions, starting with a $30 million project funded by the N.C.A.A. and the Defense Department to study the risks for and treatment of concussions.

"This is the first acknowledgement that concussions are emerging as one of the most important health issues of the decade," Dr. Douglas Smith, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, told NBC News. "It's been the elephant in the room. Now everyone is saying, how long has that elephant been there? Awareness is skyrocketing."

Philanthropist Steve Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants and an Academy Award-winning film producer, has pledged $10 million to the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the BrainSPORT Program, which has been renamed the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program.

The NFL itself has committed to spending $25 million over the next three years to support projects that will promote youth sports safety, including pilot programs to expand access to athletic trainers in schools.

"The world is a changing place with retired NFL players stating on camera that they wouldn't let their kids play contact sports. This is really bringing it to the level of a discussion for the family at the dining room table," Smith said.