Column: 'Not like we signed up to play tennis.'
President Obama tackled that issue in a recent interview with The New Republic, saying that he anticipated the less exciting pro game that guys like Harrison and Pollard envisioned as safety concerns change the way it's played. What really worried him, though, was whether those changes at the top would filter down to the lower levels of the sport soon enough.
"I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," Obama said.
"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," he added. "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."
Don't expect action from the NCAA anytime soon, but the NFL and its players' union may not have the luxury of time. A quick sampling of comments during media day showed many players still favor the status quo, risks and all.
"That's what we all know coming into the game," 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said. "We all signed up for it. It's not like we signed up and thought we were going to play tennis, you know?"
His coach, one-time NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, took that cavalier attitude a step further, when asked to respond to the president's remarks.
"Well, I have a 4-month-old — almost, soon-to-be 5-month-old — son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then (there will) be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older," Harbaugh chuckled. "That's the first thing that jumps into my mind, if other parents are thinking that way."
Keep in mind that the NFL's nightmare scenario played out on a football field an hour from Boston only a few months ago. In a Pop Warner game between longtime rivals, five kids between the ages of 10 and 12 were concussed, all on the losing team, three in the first quarter and the last one on the final play. Not everyone is convinced there's enough time to wait for Goodell and the union to sort out the legal battles and work together to advance the safety issue.
"I think it's being taken seriously, but as far as young people starting to play, we need better and smarter instruction than ever before," said former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who's enlisted his famous sons, Peyton and Eli, to help run his annual quarterbacking camp. "We've got to bring some attention to bear right away, especially how we teach tackling and the rest of the physical components of the game.
"You only get so many chances and we've let a lot slip past. We can't afford too many more misses," he said finally, "We've got to get it right."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.
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