Obama questions whether risks of football worth it for college players
January 27th, 2013
10:30 AM ET
1 year ago

Obama questions whether risks of football worth it for college players

Washington (CNN) - The lifelong neurological maladies that some football players face have led President Barack Obama - a longtime Chicago Bears fan - to question whether the risks are worth it for college players.

In an interview released online Sunday, Obama said if he had a son, he'd "have to think long and hard before I let him play football."

College players are especially vulnerable, Obama told The New Republic, since they aren't represented by unions or heavily compensated.

"You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on," he said. "That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."

In September, a study published in the journal Neurology suggested professional football players are three times more likely to have neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.

When researchers specifically looked at Alzheimer's disease and ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease - that risk increased to four times that of the general population.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had been following this group of players since the early '90s, when the NFL asked the institute to evaluate them for their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other studies have linked repeated concussions in football players to chronic traumatic encephelopathy, a neurodegenerative disease with Alzheimer's-like symptoms. Those symptoms can include depression, memory loss and mood swings. Former Chicago Bears safety David Duerson, who committed suicide, was diagnosed with CTE postmortem. It can be diagnosed only after death.

In February, Obama told Bill Simmons of Grantland.com, a sports and pop culture news website, that he knew Duerson and "used to see him at the gym sometimes."

"Now, the problem is, if you talk to NFL players, they're going to tell you, 'That that's the risk I take; this is the game I play.' And I don't know whether you can make football (be) football if there's not some pretty significant risk factors," Obama said in that February interview.

In Sunday's remarks, Obama's tone seemed to shift. He conceded that "those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence."

– CNN's Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (240 Responses)
  1. susie

    Ok he likes the Chicago Bears but the colleges he worries about, where in the heck are the pros going to come from high school into pros. Needs to worry more about ecomey about jobs and health care besides obama care which is really screwed up. And high school players get concusiions too. And Colleges depend on that money that football brings in and believe you me it brings in a heck of alot. Maybe he could give is vacation money to the colleges for their fund to help with injuries. Lord what is the man gong to come up with next,

    January 28, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  2. susie

    Forgot to add Hillary got a concussion from falling receatly I believe, maybe we schuld not let her walk around.

    January 28, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    Whome wrote:

    Why doesn't this clown worry about, jobs the homeless, the economy and our borders?
    --------
    The scorn, disdain and outright disrepect the right displays for Pres. Obama is appalling. Did it ever occur to you that out in the real world it is Super Bowl Week? And, that the president is using this week's focus on football to bring attention to a set of serious issues associated with the game of football.

    Furthermore, be aware that the President's point is that NFL players are compensated for their risks, while college and high school players are not compensated for the risks that they take. He addressed his concern towards the NCAA specifically, because the NCAA's own scholarship rules actually serve to restrain and prohibit what member schools could do help players who suffer career ending injuries.

    January 28, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  4. rogerb

    from Rudy NYC = The scorn, disdain and outright disrepect the right displays for Pres. Obama is appalling.
    we learned it from the treatment of the left towards Bush Senior and Bush Junior and the lack of respect for Reagan. you reap what you sow.

    January 28, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  5. Larry L

    @Ancient Texan

    Larry L.- I had a YOUNG friend mow his lawn and lay down for a nap...heart a heart attack and died in his sleep. Stuff happens and the president of the US could not have prevented it with his nanny approach. MY foolish Comment?
    ================================================================================================

    You're "foolishly" talking about unrelated risks. If you actually read what the President said he simply advised the NCAA take a look at the data. Try to read without altering the meaning based on your hatred for the President. He is the leader of our country and it's part of his job to be concerned for the health of our citizens. I argue for people to take responsibility for the known risks they assume. I don't want the federal or state government to pick up the tab for a person turned into a vegetable by a preventable injury. If we understand the risks we apply science and engineering to mitigate that risk. Is that too hard for you to accept?

    January 28, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. WatrGrrl

    I don't think even Democrats will abstain from fighting Emperor Ba-rack on this. But, more importantly, this is such an illustration of how out of touch this foreign-born poser is with America. And it is also illustrative of how narcissistic this poser is, to believe that his words carry such importance that people will jump to do his bidding. As delusional as Emperor Ba-rack is, he is likely to get far worse – until there is enough to impeach the poser.

    January 28, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. susie

    Oh now football, He likes the Bears but where are the players going to come from high school. And college football brings in a ton of money for the schools. Also high school players get injured too. My grandson got a slight concussion last year. College and high school make them check out concussions and other injuries. Also I believe Hilliary fell and got a concussion last month maybe she should not be allowed to walk around. He needs to worry more about ecomeny, jobs and a better health plan that obama=care.

    January 28, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. FWDTHINKING

    Some people just have a closed mind that prevents discussions. The president is not making the decisions for people. The president is however shinning light on the *high risks* involve with the possible parents decisions parents. In our culture, people have become institutionalized when addressing the major sports. The ESPN, ABC, FOX, NBCs, etc, all loves the easy money with the social cost of many amateurs needing surgeries. Whether people want it to attribute it to individual growth or let it becoming a life changing events, they have to deal with. The major sports associations do not pay or help anyone if they get hurt before becoming professionals. Their mega exposure to kids and parents does not provide a clear picture of the risks involved. Not only the successful amateur athletes needed major surgeries through their sports career, but what about the unsuccessful ones. To shine light on this often ignored social issue is priceless. To a better society, cheers!

    January 28, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  9. critical thinking

    Look, the President was asked a question and I think he gave an honest answer.

    After all, football at the college level requires; hardwork, sacrifice, and teamwork. Of course he wouldn't want his son to play that game, after all who would teach him all of those qualities.

    January 28, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  10. Larry L

    @amf140

    Sorry. College football is not in your job description
    ======================================================================================================= OSHA, CDC, CPSC, and NIOSH are federal agencies. Additionally, the Service Academies are colleges run by the federal government. Medicaid and Social Security often bear the costs for the uninsured. The President also has been briefed many times about the dangers of traumatic brain injury and the associated costs to the VA. He is acutely aware of the problem and shows concern for American athletes. Read the article and see if you can actually find an objectionable comment he made. Turn off Fox News.

    January 28, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  11. Laurie in Spokane

    Since when is offering an opinion, when one has been asked for it, sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong? Doesn't the President have the right to give his opinion? Oh! forgot, not if it is different from YOUR opinion, and not if you leap to conclusions not supported by what his opinion is. You people are completely beyond belief when you attack Obama about banning football He hasn't said that. Can't you read? Comprehend? guess not.

    January 28, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  12. Larry D.

    Does it occur to any of the libs out there that professional football players know what they are getting into when they strap on their helmet to go play this game!! Injuries are a part of the sport. Now...that being said...maybe if players were instructed properly from the time they play Pop Warner football...until they get into college...proper tackling technique, the problem wouldn't be so extensive. How many coaches of pee wee football actually have any training as a coach...especially a football coach. You just don't pick up a manual, or set of DVDs on eBay, watch them and then go coach young children proper technique. It requires some experience playing the game and learning how to coach.
    Take it from someone who played football....technique is something you learn...not legislate. yes...safety is important....but the fault falls upon the coaches who ignore the reckless play of their players. From a players point of view...you know the risks you are taking...and have chosen to live with the consequences. And yes...I chose to play...and now at 55 years old...I have had 9 operations on my left knee, one on my left elbow, broken my right foot more than a few times, and have severe arthritis in both knees, hips and RA in my hands. I walk with a cane because I cannot feel my left leg from the knee down due to all the nerve damage. And yet...I would not change a thing. I knew the risks and took them knowing that I could end up in the shape I am now. And no...I didn't play professionally...only in college. I never asked for a handout after I finished my rehab...nor did I expect any help from the school...that's what my college degree was supposed to do...give me a backup plan. yes...I graduated in 4 years....with a degree in business...and a 3.4 GPA...and my injuries did not stop me from working after college. When you play college football...you are not guaranteed a job as a professional football player...you are a Student first...athlete second. If you choose not to take advantage of the education while playing college sports...well...you are not thinking about your future.
    Making a University paying for career ending injuries is crazy.....but...nothing this president suggests surprises me at all.

    January 28, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  13. blake

    Who cares what Obama thinks on this issue. It is beyond the scope of his responsibilities at POTUS. Besides, Obama is a master at the end run.

    January 28, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  14. conchytonker

    Obama has time to chime in on this? Wow! Obama said if he had a son, he'd "have to think long and hard before I let him play football."
    How about, if he had a son...would he think long and hard about sending him to Benghazi?

    January 28, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  15. Larry L

    @Larry D.

    I chose to play...and now at 55 years old...I have had 9 operations on my left knee, one on my left elbow, broken my right foot more than a few times, and have severe arthritis in both knees, hips and RA in my hands. I walk with a cane because I cannot feel my left leg from the knee down due to all the nerve damage. And yet...I would not change a thing. I knew the risks and took them knowing that I could end up in the shape I am now. And no...I didn't play professionally...only in college. I never asked for a handout after I finished my rehab...
    ==================================================================================================== You may not have asked for a "handout" but you inadvertently got one. All of those medical expenses cost a fortune and will cost much more as you get older. You will never live long enough to repay the costs (multiply your payments and you'll see that's true) and the insurance pool (if you are insured) will absorb those huge costs in the form of higher premiums for everybody. Medicare and Social Security will likely bear some of the expenses and the taxpayers will pick up that tab – once again going far beyond your individual contribution. We're all paying so you could play a game. Nobody wants to stop the game – just mitigate the risks when possible and if not possible, let the risk-taker bear complete responsibility for the losses.

    January 28, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  16. Angela

    Neuroscience is in its infancy meaning all of the deleterious effects of brain trauma are just now being studied and reported on. What science does know is that the brain does not reach maturity until age 25 which means that the effects of a concussion/brain trauma during the brain's formative years may not reveal until many years later or could have an immediate result. It also means that those professional players, the grown men, who choose to ignore what science knows at this point in time and play football (or boxing) anyway, accept the consequences of their actions, There are currently over 2,000 NFL players suing the National Football League. With the scientific information now known regarding repeated blows to the head and concussion, why on earth would parents willingly sacrifice their child's welfare for a game. Brain injuries don't just affect the player; just ask the families of those players who have had to care for them as their brain functions deteriorated. Ask Dan Quayle; he said a mind is a terrible thing to lose.

    January 28, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  17. BeckyM

    This president is such a do nothing clown. His opinion on this is just his attempt at getting into a news headline so he feels like a Rock Star! Total waste.

    January 28, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  18. Jack

    Susie- considering your numerous misspelling (Ecomey & Ecomeny for 'economy', etc) and your flippancy regarding your grandson's concussion I think its obvious you should concern yourself more, not less, about head traumas and be thankful that you have a President who does the same.

    January 28, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    rogerb

    from Rudy NYC = The scorn, disdain and outright disrepect the right displays for Pres. Obama is appalling.
    we learned it from the treatment of the left towards Bush Senior and Bush Junior and the lack of respect for Reagan. you reap what you sow.
    ---------–
    The right admits to disrepecting the POTUS. The left has never treated a POTUS the way the right has treated Pres. Obama. There worse the left ever did to Reagan was call him "Raygun" because he wanted lasers in space. I'm not going to itemize the names that Pres. Obama has been called. The left never chastised Bush-41.

    Despite all of Bush-43's well documented gaffes (they even had a web site with over 500 new words he had invented ) , the left never stooped to the level that has been on display from the right, starting with the birther movement. The birther movement was especially appalling because it was the Bush administration that had examined his credentials and certified them. It is appalling because he whole question never came up until he had won. It is appalling because the movement was condoned by the Republican Party, not pundits, through their silence. It was appalling because the birther #1, Trump, was welcomed into the inner circle of the GOP nominee for POTUS. I could go on and on.

    January 28, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  20. m

    I keep seeing things on TV about concussions and that the game might change, obama , ECT ...
    so, I thought id give a good solution*
    ..instead of the outer shell of the helmet be hard plastic , have the helmet shell be softer . either soft material , light rubber , hard foam ,ECT . that way helmet to helmet shouldn't be as impactfull . the helmets wont be as shiny but who cares.
    your welcome

    January 28, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  21. AZ Girl

    Oh my gorsh... First he's gonna take our guns, then he's gonna make football illega!! Where will it end ?! Sorry, I decided to post the conspiracy theory out in the open. Sad part is that there is someone living somewhere in the U.S. who'll believe that.

    Could've have been worse, coming from AZ I could have tied it to "illegal immigration". Oh, wait, he's addressing that as well this week. Oh no! Taking our guns, taking our football and granting amnesty! OK covered all 3 fears, yep.

    January 28, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  22. Dave

    In Obama's world, are only boys allowed to play football? What does he have against girls?

    January 28, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  23. Snit Detector

    Illinois credit rating just downgraded to lowest in the country. If Oblunder has his way, guess who is next?

    January 28, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  24. Wilson

    @Rudy, Just got Atlas Shrugged and, so far, have finished the first two chapters. I'm an avid reader, but, so far, I'm having a hard time "getting into it."

    January 28, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  25. CoachGreene

    I am so sick of these discussions, the President has been succesful in his attempt to deflect attention from the disaster that has been his tenure. I attended a professionsl hockey game last Saturday and witnessed far greater collisions on a more consistant basis than what I witness as a high school football coach in Texas. That said the helmets worn in hockey are far less substantial than that we equip our kids in. Meanwhile, MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in North America, and they like boxing celebrate violent blows to the head. The Winter X Games showed repeatedly a snow mobile land on a man's head.

    All of these and many others are examples of dangerous activities that do not draw the ire of the President and countless media outlets. There is plenty to be done in Washington right now, get to work Obama and quit pondering about hypothetical scenarios. You have daughters, decide if you will let them risk head injuries in gymnastics and tackle the balooning debt.

    January 28, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
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