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. James

    Jeeeze–Go do something Presidential. Like figure out a way to bring Harmony in Congress. Not on your agenda I see. Your agenda is quite the opposite.–

    January 27, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  2. Dancing Baptist

    So long as my kids can continue chainsaw fishing in the rapids I'll be just fine.

    January 27, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  3. CaesarXIII

    Country is falling apart, people are losing jobs and the unemployment rate is high, foreclosures, rich getting richer, poor getting more entitlements to remain poor and dependent, attacking amendments the government doesn't, crazy folks walking around with weapons because we just give them medicine instead of locking them up.
    Mr. President, I think there's more pressing matters going on rather than kids playing football weighing the risks of something they should already know by the time they get to college. There's other people to handle that, but you want to stick your hands into the cookie for every issue when you're not focusing on the ones you promised and were elected to do. I guess you get what you vote for. Guns are killing people and we pass laws in less than a week. The economy is killing people and shuffle our feet and blame someone else.

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

    I suggest Obama shut his trap and stick to trying to learn how to be an effective President without being a tyrant. Obama has no business sticking his nose into sports and his record in this area is one of the worst for any citizen. He suffers from the "I think I'm an athlete" complex but is untalented in all regards.

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

    Obamacare wants to penalize smokers. How about penalizing ex-football players?

    January 27, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  6. TexDoc

    Ban all risk. Government will take care of all your needs, from cradle to grave.

    January 27, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  7. Brandon H

    Sorry but I'm sick of all this "goody two shoes" ..."tell everybody how to live"....pathetic nonsense. To all who are so easily lulled into echoing this prsidents every whim all I can say is Ba-a-a-a-h.

    January 27, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  8. Dma

    Its called doing what you want within the laws of our constitution. If I want to sky dive, I should be able to do it! I know the risks, I can accept the outcome. Seems like our Gov't who cannot even balance a check book thinks they know what is good/bad for us. The President just wants to keep our eyes off of the economy and focus on other things.

    January 27, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  9. oj

    NFL injuries dwarf the injuries in MMA

    they are not even comparable.

    January 27, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  10. Charles

    Before positing any commentary please read the article! His argument clearly states that college football players are getting screwed over by the NCAA. No union representation and indirect compensation through college scholarships. . What would would you if if you got paralyzed in the national championship. No large bank account to fall back on and no insurance. His argument makes perfect sense.

    January 27, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  11. are122

    He worries about everything but the economy and debt. I think the redbox movie 2016 Obama I rented was a bit right about him. I'm waiting for the law against riding motorcycles. If Obama doesn't come up with one Bloomberg probably will.

    January 27, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  12. Steel

    I think it's about time for government to get out of Americans lives! People are and should be responsible for their own lives!!! I guess since it's popular to slam the NFL and football because of head injuries (in which everyone has known about since I was a kid 25 years ago) the politicans will jump all over this chance to get involved in something they have no business in.

    January 27, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  13. heimslongus

    Look, if consenting adults want to play football without any protection and with headshots allowed, so be it. But as long as we are sending children to play this game, where sustained blows to the head are continuous, we need to take a long hard look at the safety risks of the sport.

    January 27, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. Fred

    I definitely think the US obsession with football and other sports needs to stop or be curtailed. I think the big problem is that sports are tied to our educational institutions. I think we need to stop subsidizing sports teams at high schools and colleges. Educational institutions should focus on educating students instead of fielding farm teams for professional sports teams.

    January 27, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  15. Nori K

    I think the football is under his microscope because unlike cage fight, snowboarding, mountain climbing where you understand the danger of risk to life or limb, football is generally not considered a dangerous sports.

    May be we just need better studies so a warning could be understood by student participating in the sports beforehand such as .
    "Warning, by participating in Football you will have 4 times the likelihood of producing neurological disease such as Alzheimer. Participate at your own risk"

    January 27, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  16. MalibuChick

    Obama needs to worry about our debt and spending.

    There is such a huge deal made about this, but do people really need a warning to let them know that repeatedly getting hit in the head is not good for you? Get real.

    January 27, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  17. sandy

    Chairman Obama will institute basketball as the one state sport.

    January 27, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. Dan

    College football players volunteer to play football, because of a passion for the game and usually for pride for their college. They don't get paid directly, but receive full ride scholarships. At the current tuition rates, it's more like a $30k-$60k/yr job after taxes and adding in food and lodging that's also covered. For the fans, football players are the modern gladiators that fans admire for their bravery on the field. Fans want the game as safe as possible, but it's a game of hard hits and players pushing their physical limits that can't be made completely safe.

    January 27, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. move33

    You obama haterss are a bunch of jokes.. I don't know about you but i actually read the article. He is concerned about football players injuries and concusions. Ther are a lot of people who are unaware and probably dont care about what happens to the players in the long run. He's trying to acknowledge the seriousness of this game. WE do need to make sure our players are getting good medical attention at all times and president obama seems to care. You obama haters are all the same. A bunch of idiots

    January 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  20. Braegar

    Football is a sport that a lot of people cannot understand unless they have played. Is it violent? Yes, but it is so much more than that. Someone earlier said something about football being nothing but an idiocy for uneducated people. If that were so, tell me why colleges all across the nation offer it as a sport? The alumni come see it, the students, the parents, most people who go have college degrees or are working on them. That being said Obama needs to keep his nose out of it. He needs to focus on our country not the sports we watch. Quit trying to force things on us, you are NOT a dictator, you are an elected official, that is all. You do what the people want. Period. End of story. Might as well lump us in with all those Middle East countries that have been having uprisings because of their dictators forcing things on them. I wish we had a president who would be a president. Not one that wants to take us back to the medieval times.

    January 27, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  21. Meki60

    probably did not have football in kenya during his youth

    January 27, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  22. gottlieb schlittenfahrt

    Replace football with gladitorial games so thatthe competitors can experience sudden death rather than one prolonged over many years.

    January 27, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  23. Bill

    I would like President Obama invite some of the following people (some may have passed away) to a lunch at the White House: Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Jeff Bazos, Michael Dell, Bill Boeing, Steve Jobs, and other similar industry leaders and have the President tell them "you didn't build your companies".

    January 27, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. jaykay

    Is this one of the bigger fish he has to fry?

    January 27, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  25. jake

    Easy fix: ban football. Next!

    January 27, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
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