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. SubnxRobin

    Before we worry about football look at cage fighting, motorcycles, extreme so called sports, mountain climbing and skateboards.

    January 27, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  2. Scott

    Might as well look at boxing and UFC fights as well. These athletes know what they are getting into.

    January 27, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  3. apelow

    GUNS now FOOTBALL next ALL FOODS NOT HEALTHY and on and on looks like we are going to be a nation of wimps and cowards

    January 27, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. mike.g.hall

    Please Obama keep it up. Don't focus on the economy. We're all doing fine.

    January 27, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. mike.g.hall

    Please Obama, keep it up. Don't focus on the economy. We're all doing fine.

    January 27, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  6. manhantiam

    Thank you Mr. President. He can fix this problem with an executive order to OSHA and a call to the NLRB. Unionize college football players and have OSHA pass rules that will make football safer. Say... hitting on the line only, after that it touch football. Or maybe the receivers could have flags like we did in YMCA football. Also to keep the emotions down out there after each play the line could apologize to each other and have a group hug.

    January 27, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  7. Brandon H

    People are becoming waay too soft in this country and can be led around by their noses with such ease it's sickening.I love how Obama always panders with this "people need me to tell them what's best for them because their not smart enough to be free to make their own decisions and face their own consequences"mentality.I'm sick of this arrogant jerk trying to take rights from people as well as all the other condescending,arrogant,liberal control freaks who stay on their "moral" high horse. Why don't we just tell people they can't go skydiving because it will raise their heart rate and they could fall. Lets ban fising and hunting because someone might get bit by a snake or have a shooting accident.Lets ban nascar because it uses gas and there are wrecks. Lets ban all three hundred million americans from owning guns because some people are nuts. Lets don't put insane people in mental hospitals because it's mean. For the love of sanity people WAKE UP and stop allowing yourselves and trying to force the rest of us the rest of us to be led around like sheep. I do not need another human being to be my shephard.

    January 27, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  8. Andrea Lee Jackson

    How does the subject of football beng dangerouse change to persoal attacks on President Obama. Football is a dangerous sports that appeals to a culture of violence. What to do about it, is up for grabs. Its one of those idiosyncrasies that have morphed into a religion in American society. It no longer appeals to intellect, but has become another rallying cry for idiocy.

    January 27, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  9. gemery007

    We humans are doing a fine job of progressively weakening our gene pool.

    January 27, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. daniel.milwaukee

    "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,"

    Ohhhh I guess the COLLEGE players can't fall back on their chosen field of study. Got it Mr. President.

    January 27, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  11. Frank

    Great! Now he will ban FOOTBALL!

    January 27, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  12. Robert Rasmussen

    Watch out America, them pesky Assault Footballs are deadly and should be part of the Assault Weapons Ban for sure... ~Obama

    January 27, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  13. packysama


    You really used golf and athlete in the same sentence?

    January 27, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  14. sandy

    Hmmm... Maybe an excecutive order banning football

    January 27, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  15. Just

    Uh oh. Now the Super Bowl is in danger of being cancelled or neutered.

    January 27, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  16. Stanley

    Isn't everyone's right to make their own "choice" if men want to ruin their bodies that is their right to choose.

    January 27, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  17. Liberty Queen

    Football: cult of male violence towards women, children, everyone. More women are battered on Stupor Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. These knuckle-dragging neanderthals need to be quarantined on an asteroid. ROGLMAO!

    January 27, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  18. Aaron Frick

    Illegal President Obama, please just stick to running this country into the ground and not our favorite past time.

    January 27, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. Melissa

    Brandon H....
    For the love of sanity WAKE UP.... why is that when technology and science make advances to protect society that a backwards group resist change? Why are football players wearing helmets? Why do cars have airbags? Oh forget about that tornado siren.... and on & on. People keep calling it the "softening" of America. I don't think it's the softening of America; it's about a group resisting change and burying their heads in the sand!

    January 27, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. Stanley

    His next initative is to tax QB's more because kickers and punters don't make enough. Tax the wealthy, they have to pay their fair share!!!
    Obama.." What kind of world do we live in when our kickers and punters can't provide for their families like the filthy rich QB's can"?!

    January 27, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  21. Brandon H

    That's your opinion Andrea Lee but yours and the presidents opinions don't give you a right to take freedom of choice and the persuit of their own happiness away from people. Have you ever actually watched a football game? The players learn to work as a team,they learn to rely on each other and hold evryone accountable,the have a positive release for their passionate mental and physical energy in an exiting game that millions of people enjoy watching and are rewarded for good performance,they learn about overcoming adversity. They also learn sportsmanship,they earn college scholarships if they're good enough.They can enjoy a life of wealth and exitement if theyr'e great. Do some peole get hurt playing it? Yes. Do they play because they want to?Yes. Do people get hurt and killed driving to work everyday? Yes. Do they get hurt or killed driving to work because they want to? NO! Do you and the president have a soloution to that "actual" unfortunate reality?

    January 27, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. Cindy

    Ban Olympics, soccer, baseball, football, wrestling and all sports or sport related activity. It is just to dangerous for people. President Obama knows best. You elected him and his democratic buddies, live with their decree.

    January 27, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. sadf

    wow, really. Our President is not going to solve the football thing. It's risky for college kids because they don't get compensated, but I guess if they did get some money then it is okay? Their payment is the chance to be noticed by an NFL team.

    January 27, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  24. deeceeuci

    Mr. President and Congress please don't spend time on such issues. We have deficit, budget, religious, social, and a myriad of other more important things that need addressing. This is a sport that people choose to play knowing the risks.

    January 27, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  25. 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.

    January 27, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
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