Obama questions whether risks of football worth it for college players
January 27th, 2013
10:30 AM ET
10 years 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."

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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. Rick McDaniel

    About time, that parents, all of them, re-evaluate their priorities, for their children.

    January 27, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  2. Dan5404

    Even when I was kid, I thought football was a violent and dangerous game. I played baseball for quite a few years through American Legion games and never got hurt. I don't recall a single player getting more than a bruise or two. My baseball coaches were the coaches of the big county high school, which I did not attend. They asked me to play and change schools, but I turned them down. I also did not let my kids or grandchildren play it, and their parents agree.
    I knopw all about the long tradition.football heroes, etc., but I'd much prefer that their heroes would be their parents or a caring teacher.

    January 27, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  3. vic , nashville ,tn

    I love football. A moment of playoff game between Redskins and Seahawks make me thing twice is it worth to get hurt, it was pain

    January 27, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  4. Gabbo

    Given that Obama throws like a girl, I would agree with him to keep any sons away from sports in general. Ever see him throw a baseball ? He golfs like a wimp, too – terrible athlete

    January 27, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  5. Anthony

    NCAA should look at this issue. Most college athletes are not going to make the pros. You don't want them to get permanent injuries and have nothing else to fall back on.

    January 27, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. Bob

    Since when do everyone become soft

    January 27, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  7. Jay

    Solution: cut the multi-million dollar salaries of professional athletes by at least half, take that money and provide a couple million for these NCAA players to fall back on and another couple million for the salaries of those jobs that actually need it (doctors, civil workers, etc.)

    January 27, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  8. wrm

    Well, please, decide for us, for them.

    January 27, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  9. Jay

    "Gabbo says:
    January 27, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am
    Given that Obama throws like a girl, I would agree with him to keep any sons away from sports in general. Ever see him throw a baseball ? He golfs like a wimp, too – terrible athlete".........

    Oh no our president is a terrible athlete what will we do!!????

    Btw I'm a modest republican

    January 27, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. ChuckBd

    Maybe he should have some concerns over the current state of the economy

    January 27, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  11. Marie MD

    @bob, you call it soft? I love football but it IS a violent game and there is enough evidence that the players we root for on Sundays can die before their time or have catastrophic brain injuries.
    The President is right that college students don't have anything to fall back on. The NFL fought for a long time to pretend the dangers of our most popular game would just go away.
    That is why the rules have to be changed a bit.

    January 27, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  12. Gregory Faith

    Why am I not surprised that the president is concerned for college football players. Now let's see what regulations he can implement during his second term. Let's call them Obamatection. They will end up changing the game into college touch football.

    January 27, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  13. JRobert

    One of my best friends is a former NFL quarterback who told me he would not want his son playing college football. He had 3 concussions total, with college and NFL. When you look at it from a common-sense- "let's care for the young people" standpoint it really makes little sense, considering the risks.

    January 27, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  14. Tracy Walters

    Bicycle helmets, pads, fear of sharp corners, can't play with toy guns, ....the list goes on and on. There was even a huge outcry in my town when the city wanted to put in an irrigation pond. The parents were all afraid their children would fall in and drown. Good grief, are your kids so stupid they don't know what open water is? In this article, college kids are old enough to know what they are getting into, and they are adults, it's their decision, not the government's.

    Our space program became so hampered by safety concerns that they couldn't even function, despite the astronauts knowing exactly what they were getting into.

    Our society is risk averse, and we are training our children not to take any chances. This does not bode well for the future.

    January 27, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  15. Max

    Well, since it is so dangerous, perhaps Mr. Obama should stick the government's nose into firefighting and all of the potentially lethal risks involved there?

    Really? Slow news day?

    January 27, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. Fred

    First thing they have to do stop all the head-butting and head slapping that teammates do. I call it "micro-trauma" and I believe it's very problematic. Researchers are only looking at concussions but there's more to it. It's a culture of head hitting. The only head hitting that should be allowed is that which takes place on the field between two teams.

    January 27, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  17. Eric

    Are you kidding me? Ask the gladiators if they gave a shit about a concussion. They voluntarily choose to play the game and as a former college D1-AA Footballer, I can tell you that we know the risks but play the game out of sheer passion and competitiveness. If you're a little girl I suggest watching American Idol or something but don't turn football into a girls game

    January 27, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  18. Akin

    Football? What about bullriders, boxers, or hocky? Oh man.. This article has my blood boiling. I think our combat troops need something to fall back on! Obama, if you had a son would you send him to combat???

    January 27, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    The best way to go about it would be to go after all of the people that are holding a gun to the athletes heads, forcing them to play football. Then, maybe, people would have the FREEDOM to choose what they'd like to do. Seriously, no one wants anyone to get hurt. But, do we want to take away EVERY right and freedom that we have?

    January 27, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  20. Rick

    Being in the military is MORE dangerous than playing football at ANY level, yet I do not see this president doing ANYTHING to help protect our military soldiers. He doesn't even protect our own US Ambassador's!

    January 27, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. GOP is for the rich

    @ Gregory Faith.....maybe we should put you on the field and let these bruisers use your head for a football........

    January 27, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. Dan

    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.

    January 27, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  23. GOP is for the rich

    @ Akin.....well, Romney never did! What's your point?

    January 27, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. scottclark52

    Wow. There's not an issue in the free market system that his administration can't seem to solve. I think he just make life fair.

    January 27, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  25. Rick

    This president doesn't help our wounded soldiers nor protect our US Ambassador's....remember Bengazi!

    January 27, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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