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. J

    Why are republicans always on the wrong side of progress? If it were for these clowns, blacks would literally stil have to sit at the back of the bus. AND THEN they wonder why they got squashed in November, lol.

    January 27, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. tonyh110

    Put us all on a medical marijuana drips and button taped to our hands to vote democrat when needed by our bedside – he might just be happy with his dream then. If they ever do a new film version of George Orwells 1984 we know whos face is going to be on the IngSoc party banner

    January 27, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  3. Larry L


    =================================================================================================== Many people are okay with no protection from risky behaviors if those who practice them accept total responsibility. For example, those who choose to play sports that generate trauma-induced Parkinson's should sign a waiver absolving everybody of liability and eliminating any possibility of government sponsored healthcare or support related to the injury. Those who allow themselves to become morbidly obese (soon the majority), eat nothing but crap, or choose to smoke should not pay the same premiums for healthcare – they should pay dearly for that choice. You want to avoid a "Nanny State" you'll need to man-up to your own choices. Don't make rational people pay for your stupid decisions.

    January 27, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  4. What the f?

    He already said if he had a son, he'd be a gangbanger. Is he going to try to control football now too? Perhaps he should focus on violence among blacks if he wants to fix something.

    January 27, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  5. Dale

    This from a man who plays golf and basketball

    January 27, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    How about stopping street thugs and drug crimes.

    January 27, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  7. Fourleaf Tayback

    Wow...I a more worried about jobs, the terrible economy, home prices and starts, chronic over spending and geopolitical threats...maybe I SHOULD BE PRESIDENT....I am not worried about football at all! Throw the bum out and put in the seat...I'll fix this mess Obama has created!

    January 27, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  8. travler

    Maybe ObUma has got something right for a change. Today there is more and more medical evidence that points to long term mental damage, joint damage and other things that leave one leaving the profession a medical wreck by the age of 35. Football for preteens and teens should be strictly limited in how they are tackled or hit and head butting should be outlawed for all ages. These idiots think just because they have that helmet on they can crash through walls and bash each other with head to head hits and nothing will happen. How wrong they are and now the tests are proving that they are hurt and badly hurt many times.

    January 27, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. Yun

    @Brandon H – So every time the president expresses an opinion, it some how takes away your rights, and freedom? I think you are mistaken about how powerful this man really is.

    January 27, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. Tk

    Lets see.....we are on the verge of economic collapse due to irresponsible spending and debt yet our prez does not worry about the but is concerned about football. He is such a joke. Wake up folks, this guy is in the wrong job.

    January 27, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  11. Melissa

    As for college football players having "nothing to fall back on"... how about they make sure they get a degree with their scholarship money! Then they can find a job and earn money like the rest of us.

    January 27, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  12. Peter Himmel

    Re; Andrea Jackson

    Quite the contrary. Dangers in sports appeals directly to human intellect. We, as people, as self-thinking human beings, feel strongly in the ability to take risks to our own bodies and minds. If someone wants to box, free-climb a mountain, play football, smoke cigarettes or what have you – they should have the ability to decide this on their own. It's becoming all too common that the government is beginning to govern our bodies and our minds. Hopefully this trend will not continue, because 100 years down the road, we'll have our activities and jobs set in a government calender along with the food regiment. Our intellect and ability to decide what we do with ourselves is what make us men and women. Take that away, and what are we?

    January 27, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  13. George

    What happened to that "If I had a son – in Florida".? Found out later the guy was no saint. Now this "If I had a son" again.

    January 27, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  14. chris

    I don't think liberals will rest until everyone is covered in bubble wrap and moving around on segways.

    January 27, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  15. tarura

    Asfault football should be banned

    January 27, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  16. Texas

    Hey, why doesn't he address his personal agenda concerns the same way he has other issues.... Let's make it illegal to possess a football.

    January 27, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  17. Scott

    You can't protect everyone......And you need to stop trying.

    January 27, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  18. llc

    he was asked his opinion and he gave it. It's super bowl week. The dangers of football have, unfortunately, have been making the news, (suicides, fake girlfriends, players and drunk driving, players and guns, and little league players with horrific lifelong injuries), It's just his opinion after being asked the question.

    January 27, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  19. larry M

    The players aren't heavily compensated but the colleges sure are. They do get a free education. Kind of like the military, not heavily compensated, dangerous and you might get a free education. I think I'll keep my son off his bicycle, not compensated at all, dangerous and no free education.

    January 27, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  20. jon

    He needs to let us handle our own problems. He's not our freakin daddy. It is not the governments job to tell us what is best for us.

    January 27, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Consequence

    Time for another Decree....with folded arms and his nose in the air, Il Duce, seeks to butt in again.

    January 27, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  22. OrganicManLives_N_anOraganicUNiverSE

    I'm with you Barack its dangerous and its not the great team sport as its made out to be, its a competition like any other sport except its brutal, I'm not a fan of ruby either... another brutal sport made for guys who like to mix it up. and the WWF is stupid and double-DA-ridiculous.

    January 27, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  23. Chris

    I really couldn't care less what the president thinks about football. Stop pandering to a bunch of wimps and start focusing on the economy.

    January 27, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  24. rad666

    College players?

    Why not the in the Pee Wee football league?

    Pee Wee football is child endangerment due to the injuries.

    I thought he was concerned about childrens' safety after the Sandy Hook issue?

    Or was Sandy Hook just a photo op for him?

    January 28, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  25. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The President is expressing a learned opinion and you've got the "usual suspects" ridiculously ranting about him unilaterally changing the sport.
    You can't make these people up.

    January 28, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
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