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. Woman In California

    Speaking as a person who suffered with brain and neck injuries for years, because of a bad car accident (due to no fault of my own), I would never allow my son's to play football. Never.

    January 28, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  2. SCBAMA

    He is right. College football is going to have to pay up at some point.

    January 28, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  3. Woman In California

    Dan wrote:

    Anything to deflect from his horrible record on the economy: war on women, guns and now this. This man is the master of distraction and is helped along by a drooling media and dopey electorate, 51% of whom have their hand out waiting for the government to take care of them.

    _____

    Keep talking Dan-your foolishness will keep republicans out of the White House and into the streets where they rightfully belong, without their government paychecks.

    January 28, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I too like many Americans love the game of football but not for my grand, I'd rather see him serve in the US military than playing football, that is when he's old enough.

    January 28, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. Ronald Ainsworth

    The president needs to stop worrying about who owns or runs the football teams(all the other sports teams as well), traveling all over the country trying to get votes for the next election. He needs to stay in D.C. and stop giving illegal immigration amnesty; and worry about correcting the porblems that we have with the overseas countrys.

    January 28, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  6. Johnny Chagdes

    "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,"

    Am I wrong or do these college players also attend classes so that they have something to fall back on?

    Ludicrous statement ... they all know the risks about this contact sport. There is always soccer for the non-contact crowd.

    January 28, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  7. Wake up People!

    @Jack and Rudy, thank you.

    When my son was a little guy he was very stocky(birthweight 9lbs.1 oz). His grandmother thought he looked adorable in his little mini uniform. His dad took one look and said, no way is my son playing football, he's playing baseball. Actually he himself decided on basketball, and it's been his favorite sport since he was a year old.

    January 28, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Larry D. wrote:

    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.
    ------
    Good grief, man. Did it ever occur to you to actually read the article? Read it, instead of reciting the irrelevant talking points that you have metabolized from the right wing media machine?

    The president spoke directly about the NCAA, not the NFL. He only mentioned to point out the difference between the risks taken at the different levels of the sport. His point was to cast light on the unaccountable risks being taken by amatuer players, not the professionals. Professionals are compensated for the risks they take, and are insured against those risks. The same is not true for the amatuer athletes.

    January 28, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  9. Woman In California

    Brandon H

    This president personally attacks me every time he opens his mouth, spews blasphemy and tries to tell me I'm too stupid to think for myself.

    --

    The truth hurts doesn't it?

    January 28, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. Matthew

    Let's get back to reality, folks. Football is a physical sport, nobody denies that. If people are willing to take the risk of serious injury, then they should play all the football they want. If people don't like that risk, then they shouldn't play. Same for parents – if they're comfortable with the risk, then they should let their kids play. If they aren't, the shouldn't. This issue hardly rises to the level of needing the attention of the US President. On the list of issues facing our nation at this exact moment that are so important that they truly require Congressional or presidential attention, I feel pretty confident in saying that football-related injuries are not in the top 1,000. Let's leave the President and Congress to (hopefully) do some work on true national issues.

    January 28, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  11. susie

    This picture of him throwing the football reminds me of commercial that showing about fatherr teaching son how to throw a base ball. God please, oh yeah don't think he goes to church.

    January 28, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Matthew wrote:

    Let's get back to reality, folks. Football is a physical sport, nobody denies that. If people are willing to take the risk of serious injury, then they should play all the football they want. If people don't like that risk, then they shouldn't play. Same for parents – if they're comfortable with the risk, then they should let their kids play. If they aren't, the shouldn't. This issue hardly rises to the level of needing the attention of the US President.
    ----–
    One, it is Super Bowl Week. Two, he was responding to a question in an interview. Three, many athletes do not accept the risks, they choose to ignore them. Four, the price to paid when risk comes to collect is far higher than what people expect,

    Finally, the way the NCAA scholarship rules are written, institutions are prohibited to providing financial assistance with medical expenses to a walk-on player who suffers a career or life threatening injury. In fact, the institutions cannot even provide extended financial assistance for medical expenses after a scholarship athlete is severely injured and is no longer enrolled at the institution.

    January 28, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  13. alloutnole

    Soon we'll be a nation full of whining nincompoops because our government will continue to medal in affairs that do not directly concern them. Football is a game, a game that I allow my 8 year-old to be a part of. I've coached Pee-Wee football for many years now and we have more injuries to the cheer-leading squads than we have ever had to our players. The past few years I have witnessed a huge change in the rules and some good and some not so good. We as coaches are the last line of defense for these young kids and we protect them at all cost because we are parents too. Still, football is a contact sport, it demands a lot more from a physical stand-point than many other sports. But, since our government hasn't even proven that they can balance their own checkbook, I wouldn't say I would put much faith in them to regulate a sport such as football. Balance the budget, pay down the debt, lessen the amount of tax dollars and keep your grubby hands off my sport.

    January 28, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  14. petemg

    Will the illustrious leader soon tell us when to relieve ourselves and how to wipe ourselves. Stick to the issues of the nation. He needs to set his own priorities.

    January 28, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  15. Really?

    1. Played football in college and am now a medical student
    2. Nerds who smoked weed and did other drugs like Obama in school would like nothing more than to take away a game jocks love, jocks who made fun of them in college and high school. These same nerds obviously work at CNN.
    3. Obama throws like a little girl, he has no athletic ability and is not an authority on sports or medicine. BTW, the picture is hilarious.
    4. There is more head trauma in soccer and equal accelerations/decelerations.

    January 28, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  16. Army Wife

    More distractions from "The Great I AM".

    January 28, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  17. Squigman

    Seems everything becomes a political statement today. Why is it necessary for sports to become political fodder, for the right or the left? If a person wants to play sports, fine. If a person doesn't play sports, fine. Why does it have to be a part of the national debate? Isn't there more important items on the plate to deal with? People are going to bed hungry, homeless, with little or no hope and the attention is placed on sports? Get real.

    January 28, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. CJ

    My point of view – the game should not be played by anyone – middle school, high school, college or professional. I am very glad that my grandsons are not interested in the game.

    January 28, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  19. Reasonably

    Dear Mr. President. This is not your concern. Please concentrate on matters that matter and let entertainment take care of itself.

    - America

    January 28, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  20. Wes

    How many imaginary sons and girlfriends does this bozo have?

    January 28, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  21. 4F

    Our dear sweet empathetic president is worried about a bunch of dumb jocks who choose to engage in a dangerous sport. He obviously is not worried one bit about 60,000 innocent men, women, and children who have been slaughtered in Syria. Makes no difference anyway he won't do crap about helping either.

    January 28, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  22. palespyder

    Incoming ban on football.

    January 28, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  23. EoC

    Oh Dear Obama Osama - Protect Us From Ourselves! No wonder the education level in this country is at an all time low. The government - and it's not just confined to the current administration - is continually trying to legislate what is good for us and what is not. Come On You Morons - Think For Yourselves. If a parent doesn't want their son to play football, then don't let him. However, once they are eighteen (18) - in most places - they are allowed to make their own decisions. But we've been taught to be lazy and let someone else do for us - even our thinking and decision making. Put some balls on, pull up your big boy panties and think for yourself.

    January 28, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  24. InPseudocognito

    You're like King Midas except everything you touch turns to poo (healthcare, job creation, etc.)...how about creating some jobs and staying out of the private sector....you already ripped us off on healthcare to pay off your lobbyist friends..

    January 28, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  25. Jimmy Moore

    You know, cars kill tens of thousands of people a year. If we really cared about life and death and destruction they would be the first to go. Quit attacking drugs, guns, football, etc. etc. and let people live their lives the way they will, enjoy themselves as much as possible and hopefully find their way to heaven after the long sleep. If people abuse any of those things so that others are harmed, then it's time for the state to move in. We don't need a mother, just a caring aunt.

    January 28, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
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