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. ryan

    I LOVE football. Played it as a kid and watch it as religion every fall. That said, I am encouraging my two boys to look at other interests.

    January 28, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  2. Wake up People!

    I read the entire article and not once did I read President Obama is trying to ban football. Now maybe I missed that part but the question I would like to ask is, is the President of the United States NOT allowed to have an opinion?? And should he tell the interviewer that he needs to get back to him, and not answer said question?? Fox News and their Obama bashing 24-7 is doing so much damage to this country. It's called reading comprehension people, and a lot of people need to try it.

    January 28, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  3. John Hunt

    Obama is sticking his nose into everything except the one place where it's desperately needed- debt and jobs!

    January 28, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  4. Sniffit

    Next up, CNN Ticker article with headline "Obama asks for a little more jam on his toast this morning."

    Followed immediately by Teatrolls throwing hair-on-fire tantrum in comment section, claiming that "now Obama's trying to have the gov't mandate how much jam goes on our toast...when is he going to focus on the economy instead of his toast?"

    January 28, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  5. PRattenbury

    Sure would be nice if the politicians would devote this much energy on something meaningful, like fixing the economy...

    January 28, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  6. Harris

    I'll say it. It should be outright banned. Or mandated that a significant less proportion of schools' budgets go to these programs and kids and their parents talked to really hard when they come to try out for teams.
    People are more obsessed with football culture than what is going on in their own government. It also fosters an attitude that equates violence and inflicting harm with success and popularity. Get interested in something else, who cares. It's just a game.
    It does cause long term damage. I started playing pee-wee football and had to quit before the end of high school. Leg injuries – but more importantly, I started to develop "concussion migraines" from all the concussions I had received. Never looked back.
    Schools spend more on their football programs than they do their academics. Not the purpose of college. Especially when players who get in for the sport shouldn't be rewarded scholarships or acceptance over someone with good grades.
    Not to mention the history of rapes, hazing and violent crimes associated with some teams and players that also get swept under the rug or overlooked sometimes, or the criminal investigations that get intentionally bungled because of their status as star players (recent point in case, Ohio. Geez, just google "football sexual assault. The list goes on for awhile). I feel as where celebrities and men of power usually have the uncanny ability of quieting and walking away from rape/assault convictions/allegations, football tends to pass that same privilege down to you average Joe who can run really fast.
    Those who are pissed about this suggestion are only so because it came from Obama. Grow up. Some people have been saying this for awhile.

    January 28, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  7. GaryB

    I don't understand the people who are jumping up and down at Obama's remarks. He's not talking about banning anything. He's just saying if he had a son, he would have concerns about him playing football. That's not an unreasonable thing for a father to say, especially when you have guys like former Superbowl-winning Quarterback Kurt Warner and Jets Linebacker Bart Scott saying that they will not let thier sons play football.

    January 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  8. freedom

    yikes – he throws like a girl –

    January 28, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC


    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.
    AS usual, the right wing has totally missed the point and manufactured a false argument of their own. What the president said was the NCAA "should look into" the consequences and lifelong medical problems that people suffer from playing football.

    The facilities and services that you describe are only paid for and provided to people who are students at the school. NCAA rules against providing any sort of financial support to the limited number of students on scholarship, has the undesireable side effect of schools providing medical support for student-athletes who are suffer career ending injuries on the field. Once their status as being a member of the team and/or studet enrolled in classes, the same rules that limit scholarships also prohibit the school from covering extended medical costs.

    January 28, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. Tom

    This empty suit just needs to butt out!!! What a complete failure our "Lord and Savior" is.

    January 28, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  11. amf140

    Sorry. College football is not in your job description. There are many more important issues on your plate. Get to work.

    January 28, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  12. Sy2502

    "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.'"

    Why is that a problem? Oh I know, to Liberals, free will is a problem. You can't make decisions for yourself, you need to be a good little drone and do what you are told. Because you as an individual aren't qualified to make personal decision. Let Nanny State decide for you, after all, Nanny State knows best.

    January 28, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  13. amf140

    The number of kids, especially inner city, that are helped by football far exceeds anything that our government can do for them. The only other organization that does better at making kids good, productive citizens is the military. Just think if all these college football players were on the street. Typical Libralism – create a crisis to garner more control over our daily lives.

    January 28, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  14. shrek

    obama has never played football and he has no place to speak his mouth. He should try and run the country better and leave football alone. I played football for a total of 16 years and loved it. Leave football alone and have him go to the nation he born in and allow him to ruin it

    January 28, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  15. Ragin Cajun

    Young people, boys AND girls, like to get physically aggressive. Better they should have something of a regulated activity for doing it rather than leaving it to them to find an unsupervised outlet. If we accept this as a reality of our younger nature, then too we must accept that the practice of that supervision will improve so as to let them enjoy without harm.

    I would much rather have my son play football then stay out late at night on the street doing whatever unsupervised.

    January 28, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  16. Whome

    Why doesn't this clown worry about, jobs the homeless, the economy and our borders?

    January 28, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  17. Ed

    Obama needs to fix the country with balancing the budget, cut spending and creating jobs. Please stay out of football.

    January 28, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Sy2502 wrote:

    "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.'"

    Why is that a problem? Oh I know, to Liberals, free will is a problem. You can't make decisions for yourself, you need to be a good little drone and do what you are told.
    Obviously you need to be told what to do, so I'm telling you to get your facts straight so that you might be able to see the whole point of what was said. Pres. Obama cited the fact that NFL are *compensated* for the risks that they take on the field. While players at the college, high school, and other levels are *not compensated* for their risks.

    There's one last thing that you need to be told. Your own argument actually supports the President's point because it paraphrases almost exactly what he said about NFL players.

    January 28, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. Ancient Texan

    Larry L.- I had a YOUNG friend mow his lawn and lay down for a nap...heart a heart attack and died in his sleep. Stuff happens and the president of the US could not have prevented it with his nanny approach. MY foolish Comment?

    January 28, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  20. Don

    One problem the NCAA (not to mention the NAIA and NJCAA) has is, it's not just FBS schools that have this problem. However, any changes made to NCAA Division 3 football to make it safer end up applying to FBS as well, as there is only one "NCAA Football Rulebook".
    Obviously, the first change would be to the most dangerous play – what is it? Kickoffs? Punts? Field goal attempts? Pass plays?

    January 28, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  21. JIM M

    John Hunt

    Obama is sticking his nose into everything except the one place where it's desperately needed- debt and jobs!


    He was asked a question.

    January 28, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  22. Totally Foolish

    Wait, taking our guns isn't enough, now Obama hints at taking on football? Good luck with that....if you think the NRA is powerful, try taking on the NFL!

    January 28, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  23. JIM M


    Obama needs to fix the country with balancing the budget, cut spending and creating jobs. Please stay out of football

    He was asked a question. He can't fix the economy without Congress, and the GOP doesn't want to fix it.

    January 28, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    What information exactly, in the Benghazi example, could have been withheld because it was vital to the interests of national security? You're stretching
    No you're stretching.
    He said "What IF they lied to the public". You insist on working off of the false premise that THE ADMINISTRATION lied to the American people when it has been stated over and over in public record hearings that the intelligence agency did not make public all details but everyone on your side of the aisle is conveniently overlooking that while beating the living s hit out of folks like Ms. Rice and the President, Hillary not so much. Hmmm....
    There have been and will be instances on the part of the admnistration, as I'm sure even you would admit, where it is necessary to keep some details from folks like you, this wasn't one of them, no matter how much you insist otherwise.
    So unless you have irrefutable proof to the contrary that has not surfaced in the many hearings and investigations behind this case, I'd say your rubber band has snapped.

    January 28, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  25. Ezra

    Most of them don't go to Harvard and aren't going to be road scholars so they are finding their way. He may question the importance of football vs the risk like probably most parents. Too bad he seems to relish the thought of the 55million babies killed from abortion since 1970.

    January 28, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
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