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)

    America should ban guns and football, then we should all realize that Obama has DESTROYED this country.

    January 28, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  2. rustymcneal

    Anything to keep our eye off the ball...the economy.

    January 28, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  3. critical thinking

    Yeah, I think that anything that involves, teamwork, sacrifice and hardwork he would be against.

    January 28, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  4. TR

    To move33, we did read the article and anybody who has a small amount of sense knows about this issue, except maybe the liberal non listening non thinking followers, the players on FBS schools have better medical attention then you can possible beleive. They know the risk playing football and they are tested left and right for head injuries. At the University of Nebraska they have developed the protocal for handling head injuries in sports. Hospital goes to their local Universities to get training on dealing with sports injuries. Its great that your President is concerned, we all are, but his concerns should be the economy that he doesnt seem to want to take care of. The kids today also get free schooling, its called a scholorship, you may want to read up on it, it would probably help you in the long run, just saying.

    January 28, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  5. Nikki

    Now your president is after football?? Too funny. His double-speak (you know, say one thing, but do the opposite) has conned a number of people, but take football away from the masses??? That may be the tipping point.

    January 28, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  6. thomase

    Again, you people are blowing this out of proportion people. He's not interfering with football, it was a question asked during an interview. Guns and football are dangerous for different reasons, both should be made as safe as possible without impacting overall use.

    Most of you would demand them return to leather caps if Obama said he appreciated the current helmets.

    January 28, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  7. Brian

    This is simple...the schools make TONS of money from these kids and some of it needs to go back to the kids who helped them make the $. Take a portion and set up a fund and give it back. Easy on the Obama bashing, he just said he'd have to seriously think about having his child play football. Not "stop the sport". Something to think about, he said. I think that everyone should think about that. Take care of the kids who take care of you.

    January 28, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  8. The Other Bob


    America should ban guns and football, then we should all realize that Obama has DESTROYED this country.
    Yes, because those are the only things that are important in America.
    Then there's the little problem with your "thinking": Obama is proposing neither. But I think I see a hole in yor tin-foil hat. Better make a new one.

    January 28, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  9. Rudy NYC

    rogerb wrote:

    @LarryL ..... 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.
    You're all bent out of shape because Pres. Obama said that he would weigh the risks of allowing a hypothetical son play football. He was speaking as a parent concerned for the welfare of their child, not as a politician. In fact, he suggested no laws to be enacted. He simply encouraged the NCAA to follow the lead of the NFL and take a more definitive approach on the risks and dangers of serious sports related injuries.

    He encouraged all parents to take a more pro-active role when it comes to their children participating in football programs, which do not take responsibility for serious injuries. The recent case of a Rutgers lineman who was injured from the neck down on national television is an excellent example. The young man was provided with medical care for as along as he was still on athletic scholarship, enrolled as a full-time student.

    Once he was forced to drop out for the obvious medical reasons, the coverage for his medical needs ended. That was done because of an NCAA rule, which prohibits schools from providing financial resources to individuals not on scholarship. There are scholarship limits, and so the extent of financial support to students and individuals is tightly defined. The rule has the negative impact of preventing schools like Rutgers from covering ongoing medical expenses for someone who was injured while on scholarship, but is no longer enrolled as full-time student on a football scholarship.

    January 28, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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.
    If you stopped being characteristically paranoid long enough, you'd realize just how ridiculous you and your ilk sound.
    The President was expressing his opinion, an educated one at that, at a hypothetical question.
    Reading comprehension should've kicked in at least half-way through the article enough to make you realize he DOES'NT have a son. Where in the artcle does it say that he is legislating anything.
    What is wrong with you people?
    Is he not allowed to express an opinion?

    January 28, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  11. cliffdean56

    Well, I guess we now have to endure Nobama’s thoughts about how dangerous football is.
    Does anybody see his hypocritical views about this statement???
    If he had a SON????
    What if his daughter wanted to play football???

    January 28, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. Fernando

    Since diagnoses are determined by neurologists based on interviews and various performance tests, and verification is only possible post-mortem, I see the potential of over-reporting for this syndrome. Many of the people posting here about Obama banning football or prohibiting them from quarterbacking their team would, for example, exhibit symptoms of delusion virtually indistinguishable from a veteran football player who sustained an inordinately high number of severe impacts to the head.

    January 28, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  13. Jillian

    He is trying to take focus off of relevant issues. "Fiscal cliff/budget took focus off of healthcare reform, gun control took focus off of fiscal cliff/budget- now I guess he is trying to take focus off of gun control with...ignorant football comments?

    When the government tries to micro manages us to a point where they feel like they must save us from ourselves in recreational activities, we are in deep friends.

    January 28, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  14. DC

    I guess I missed the part where Obama said that the government should get involved or where he said that he was going to take executive action. He suggests that there may have to be more rule changes to help prevent injuries, inferring head injuries specifically. That is not much of a leap considering all the player safety rules that have already been instituted. He did not say that the government or he himself was going to make any changes, merely that the sport's governing bodies will likely continue to make changes. Dictators and kings do not leave decisions to other governing bodies.

    January 28, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  15. edcoil

    Great, just what we need, government telling private industry what to do. I was wondering what sports his daughters play, we never hear of that. Our daughters were in dance, volleyball and soccer sometimes changing in the car going from one event to the other yet I have never heard of his daughters in any sports.

    January 28, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. Justin

    I wish football was banned...country needs to get its priorities in order...more people know players in their local college teams than they know their local representatives...and that's sad...really really sad.

    January 28, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  17. Dennis

    How do people go from "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." and I would have to think hard about whether I would want my son to play football, to Obama is planning to ban football? Are people so stupid and paranoid that they take reasonable safety concerns to some sort of promised infringement on their freedom?
    Can none of those tell the difference between honest dialogue and whatever it is they fear?

    January 28, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  18. chupacabre

    as he smokes another cig.

    January 28, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  19. Larry L

    ======================================================================================================= The boy who died was on the opposing team and made the tackle exactly as he was taught – leading with this head. Since then we learned from medical outcomes to train otherwise. Nobody said anything about banning football or totally eliminating risks. We should mitigate risks whenever possible and when not possible, create laws to make individuals totally responsible for the consequences. You foolish analogies about risks do not offer logic – just condescending prattle. Those who are injured by extreme risks they accept should not expect society to pay for the medical costs, increased insurance premiums, and long-term care for the disabled. Once the risk is truly identified and quantified, it's unreasonable to expect others to foot the bill for your decisions. The President has every right to make observations about societal practices that increase risks to our citizens. We have a Congress that ostensibly makes laws to protect society and sports organizations to accept or reject the liability from ill-advised practices.

    January 28, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  20. Jim

    Better brief Obama on the danger of hammers. And don't forget about safety pins...they're BAD.

    January 28, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  21. thomase

    My golly, proper training suddenly means banning.

    January 28, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  22. newshound

    No, he didn't say RIGHT NOW that he's coming after football. But whenever he says he is 'considering' something, or in an aside expresses an opinion about it, watch out!

    January 28, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  23. George Williams

    Meanwhile he has no trouble with the meaningless deaths to troops in Afganistan. This is just part of Comrade Obama's desire to create America in his own feminine image.

    January 28, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  24. Name

    Let's not stop ther, highschool is just as unprotected.

    January 28, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. Joel

    I think he should be worrying about the deficit and not football.

    January 28, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
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