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. Erik

    Obama is right. We should probably talk about banning football. There's another liberty nobody needs.

    January 28, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Mr. President, you need a quaterback coach. Your upper body is, specifically your right arm, is out of synch and not working together. You're gonna develop tendonitis or something worse if you do not correct that, or stop trying to throw those heavy NFL footballs. Those things are heavy. It requires more than muscle strength to make hard throws. It also requires years of practice, which conditions your ligaments for the strain and stress.

    As for your remark, I think you will get a reaction out of Texas. Texas high school football is almost a religious cult in some areas.

    January 28, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  3. Mike Frye

    Oh great POTUS, save us from our ignorance!!!

    January 28, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  4. fiftyfive55

    D'UH,put me in coach,my head don't hurt much.
    Why is anyone surprised at football injuries ? and if your dumb enough to admit thinking football isn't dangerous then your probably not able to read this.

    January 28, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  5. Larry L


    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.
    ===================================================================================================== It becomes everybody's problem when you can't pay the huge costs associated with traumatic brain injury. Even with health insurance the enormous costs gets passed-on to the insurance pool. It will be the same with Type 2 diabetes. People who shove unhealthy food into their pie holes have the right to be morbidly obese. But ultimately, they expect the healthcare system to take care of them and insurance companies to provide coverage. We need laws forcing people to accept the consequences of their decisions – including the "right" to die w/o without taxpayer help.

    January 28, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  6. Randy, San Francisco

    Seems silly or petty until a catastrophic injury happens to a loved one in your family.

    January 28, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  7. Mike

    Yep, "they" were right, the govt is working towards getting rid of American football. For sometime I've been reading what some would say are conspiratorial articles suggesting moves on the part of the govt to end football and at first I hesitated to believe them. They say it's all part of a grand plan to make the US more like Europe so that we can all eventually fall under the governance of the One World Order. But first the US has to be brought under control and that means getting rid of all of those things that make us stand apart from Europe like private gun ownership, American Football, etc.

    January 28, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  8. pat pat

    He must use his executive power to ban football. This must happen immediately.

    January 28, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  9. Sid Stewart

    it is really none of Obama's business about football; yea, let's protect the players but kill the babies they should have had through abortion

    January 28, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  10. Ancient Texan

    A few"Royal Decrees" would take the risk out of football, use flags instead of tackling big pillows wrapped around heads...etc.

    January 28, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  11. Kathleen

    What's next for mr obama, a nationwide ban on football? it's no wonder N korea has no hesitation in threatening and provoking us.

    January 28, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. Mark

    Quick thoughts ...

    A good form tackle need not include a bone crunching, concussion causing hit. Wrap the runner up, alter his center of gravity, get him to the ground. No need for the hits that cause these injuries. Coaches need to teach how to properly tackle. I see so many missed tackles because guys are out of position, or because guys are trying to deliver a hit instead of a tackle.
    Helmets need not be as hard as they are. Giving the exterior of the helmet some give could be useful.
    Change the hitting with the head culture of the game starting at the younger leagues. As is, you lead with the head, you get a fifteen yard penalty. I would suggest adding sitting out two plays. Lead with the head three times in a game and you get ejected.
    President Obama's throwing motion needs some work.

    January 28, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. rufusmortis

    Just a little at a time...

    January 28, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  14. v_mag

    I guess right wingers are terrible parents, if the comments here are any indication. If a right winger's child wants to be a boxer, NASCAR racer, football player, or daredevil motorcycle driver, I guess that parent would say, "Great!" and not give serious injury a second thought.

    If you read the statements, you'd find that Obama was asked a hypothetical question about what risks he would let his child take, and he said he'd be very careful. Isn't that what any normal parent would do? Or have I been away from the right wingers so long that I've underestimated just how out of it they are? I begin to believe that some people who post here were themselves dropped on their heads at birth.

    January 28, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  15. JJ

    Is the superbowl still on?

    January 28, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  16. Tony in Maine

    College players feed the NFL. My God, without the NFL, what would Bubba and Erline do on Soooper Sundae (sic).

    January 28, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  17. Larry L

    @Ancient Texan

    A few"Royal Decrees" would take the risk out of football, use flags instead of tackling big pillows wrapped around heads...etc.
    =================================================================================================== I played in a Jr. High game in San Antonio about 50 years ago where a boy broke his neck with a tackle attempt. He lived a few years but ultimately died from the trauma. He's still dead and you're still making foolish comments.

    January 28, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  18. rustee3

    He needs to worry about a budget and how to pay americas debt and let us worry about our kids and the risk they take playing football

    January 28, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  19. rogerb

    taking on pro football too? the messiah must not have anything else to do – he's fixed the debt, erased unemployment, made peace with all the Muslim nations, ended all the wars, raised the dead and healed the sick and wounded – so I guess now it's football – what would you expect from a fraud?

    January 28, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  20. blake

    Football fans wary of Obama. Concerned about his extreme, far left policies and rhetoric.

    January 28, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  21. Smacke

    President Obama would question the safety of ballet if asked...

    January 28, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  22. Doc B

    When a man of his stature speaks, his opinion carries a lot of weigh regardless if you like him or not. Too bad he doesn't have the same level of concern about other health related dangers given he still smokes. Hypocrisy in action

    January 28, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  23. thomase

    Holy crap you people blow things out of proportion. Concussions and head damage in sports is a major issue that is already recognized by NFL as well as the NHL.

    So Obama said a thing, let's blow it out of proportion!

    January 28, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  24. v_mag

    When it comes to taking risks in order to play football or box or drive a race car, right wingers are incensed that the President would even make a comment about the danger of it. It's their God-given right to put themselves in danger. I'm fine with that, as long as they grant that a pregnant woman has the same right when she has a personal decision to make.

    January 28, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  25. rogerb

    @Larry L – I played football in junior high and school in Texas 50 years ago as well. A good friend of mine who would have been a really good football player crashed his bicycle one day -the crash killed him so I suppose we should fix that too. And Tommy Nobis, the great Atlanta Linebacker had a cousin in San Antonio who played for San Antonio Lee. He was to be the "second coming of Tommy Nobis but he drowned while swimming – so I suppose we should fix that too. Bottom line life has risks. Riding a bicycle has risks, swimming has risks, playing any sport has risks. Sleeping has risks, eating too fast has risks, it's part of life. I'm sorry about your friend but don't equate that to POTUS's "right" to step into something he has no business being involved in.

    January 28, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
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