‘If I had a son:’ Obama worries about football

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Recently, President Barack Obama said in an interview with The New Republic that if he had a son, he would hesitate letting him play the game of football because of the physical impact it has on players.

“I think 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,” the President continued. “In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

The National Football League has been trying desperately to keep their players safe as well as maintain the violent nature that is football. In the 2010 season alone, there was an average of 9.35 concussions a week, according to The Concussion Blog’s weekly analysis of NFL Official Injury Report. Only three years ago, Congress pressured the NFL to ramp up its concussion program to better evaluate, screen, and protects athletes from serious head injuries. Since then, the NFL has had a difficult time enforcing the management of players with concussions. For example, this season alone there has even been controversy over medical and coaching staff knowingly putting players back in games that have had suffered concussions.

How serious head injuries are treated and managed is currently a big debate not just in the NFL, but in college football as well. Multiple serious head injuries, as studies have shown, can lead to long-term brain damage. So even though the President’s comments are very relevant to the current standing of player safety, it’s hard to say how qualified he is to make statements about potential changes in football’s gameplay.
Yet the President went on to talk about the same issue in college football.

“I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” President Obama commented. “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. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”

I think we can all agree that football is a very high-risk sport that our country has been in love with. Concussion problems aren’t only an issue in football; the NHL also regulates and manages players who have suffered a serious head injury. Most notably, the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby was out for quite sometime because of a serious concussion. Other contact sports, like men’s and women’s lacrosse, also have a difficult time managing serious head injuries. In high school sports, girl’s lacrosse actually sustains the most player concussions than any other girls sport. Managing serious head injuries isn’t only a football problem, to say the least.

Barack Obama’s points may have been legitimate, but football won’t drastically change. I fully support looking out for players and doing everything the organization can to protect players who have suffered a serious head injury. But the game can’t, and frankly won’t, become unexciting because it wouldn’t be football anymore. The players know what they’re signing up for. They are all fully aware that at any given time on the field they may be pummeled by a six foot three inch, 250 pound man that wants to knock them to the ground as hard he can.

Realistically, concussions are only recently becoming a part of national attention because of advancements in medicine. Especially in the NFL, studies of concussions have really only been around for the past decade, whereas the NFL has been around for over 40 years. Unfortunately, serious head injuries have always and will always be a part of the sport. One way the NFL tried to combat quarterback safety was in 2006 when they restricted below the knee tackles as well as had officials call roughing the passer much tighter. This small change alone caused serious uproar around the league. In 2009, the Baltimore Ravens lost to the New England Patriots in a close game that was altered by two penalties against the Ravens defensive line against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata just brushed past Brady, but when Brady fell to the ground, flags were thrown.

Players around the league have shown distaste in the rule change. Patriots’ defensive lineman Vince Wilfork expressed his thoughts on the safety of players in his position in an interview via the Boston Herald.

“You have a guy that’s making $30 million a year, but you can’t touch him. C’mon, let’s be for real now,” Wilfork said. “Me as a defensive lineman, it’s OK for somebody to hold me up, and another guy to come and chop my legs, and I can’t protect myself.”

Though players and fans have come to terms with the rule change, how many more rules can the NFL change to change the way the game is played?

Coaches John and Jim Harbaugh, coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers respectively who are coaching against each other in the upcoming Super Bowl, responded to Barack Obama’s comments in a press conference reported by the Denver Post.

“Well I have a 4-month old, almost 5-month old son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then there will be a little bit less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets old,” Jim Harbaugh said.

John responded to the same question agreeing with his younger brother.

Unlike the President, I have never had a guilty conscience watching the game of football. There is no doubt that football around the country has given young men tremendous opportunities and has become a staple of American culture. Yes, I’ll admit I have no desire to throw myself at people twice my size, but the game teaches discipline, teamwork and that hard work pays off.

Brian Urlacher, an all-star linebacker for the Chicago Bears who completed over 1000 tackles in his accolade laden career, has very similar but straightforward sentiments.

“If you don’t want to play and get concussed, then don’t play,” Urlacher said. “It’s your career. It’s your life.”