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By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — During a White House summit on the epidemic of traumatic brain injury, President Barack Obama said Thursday he thinks he may have suffered a mild concussion more than once when he was playing football as a kid.

He used the story to call upon parents, coaches and fans to stop expecting athletes to “suck it up” and play on despite injuries.

“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,” Obama said. “At the time you didn’t think anything of it. The awareness is improved today, but not by much.”

Now, Obama says, Americans need to change the sports culture.

“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,” he said. “It means you’re strong.”

Obama has spoken off the cuff about head injuries in sports before, telling an interviewer last year that, if he had a son, he would think “long and hard” before letting him playing football.

But as new statistics and shocking anecdotal evidence have come to light over the last couple of years, Obama has been talking more seriously with fellow football fans on his staff about whether they had a responsibility to help raise consciousness.

The result was Thursday’s summit, where participants revealed commitments of monetary support for research. The NCAA and the Department of Defense are launching a $30 million fund to improve concussion safety practices in college sports and the military. The NFL has pledged $25 million over the next three years for youth sports safety.

An outspoken Chicago Bears fan, Obama said he intends to keep shining a spotlight on a problem that touches everyone from children in Little League to the country’s most admired military and sports heroes.

After moving from Indonesia to live with his grandparents in Hawaii as a child, Obama has said that football helped him fit in with his peers. In his autobiography, Obama wrote that he had “no idea how to throw a football in a spiral or balance on a skateboard,” pronouncing it “a 10-year-old’s nightmare.” Later, though, he gained acceptance in part because he learned how to “toss a wobbly football around.”

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

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