President Barack Obama is a sports nut; there's no doubt about that. He plays aggressive pickup basketball games with close friends and watches football with a passion -- especially the exploits of his beloved Chicago Bears. But in a recent interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, Obama said that if he had a son, he would not let him play football -- at any level of participation.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” he told Remnick, who wrote King of the World, the seminal biography of Muhammad Ali. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”
Obama was speaking of a sport that currently has more than 4,000 former players suing the NFL, alleging that the league knew more about the dangers of head trauma than it let on. And despite the flawed efforts of the NFL to look responsible with the recent Heads Up initiative, the perception among many parents is that they'd rather their children play other sports.
“At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” Obama said of those players who do take the risk. “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
It's not the first time the President has voiced his concerns regarding this subject. Before Super Bowl XLVII, he opined that he'd have to think "long and hard" if his son wanted to make that choice.
Of course, such thoughts exist in the realm of the hypothetical -- Obama and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters and no sons. But the fact is, Obama is speaking for an increasing demographic, even if he isn't part of it.
When Jim and John Harbaugh, the head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, were asked about Obama's comments at that time, it's safe to say they didn't agree. Both men are the sons of longtime football coach Jack Harbaugh, and Jim said he's already got the next generation moving in the same direction.
"Well I have a four-month-old -- almost five-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 on Jan. 28 of last year. "It’s still early. Like I said, Jack is only five months old. He is a really big kid. He has an enormous head. We don’t have a forty on him yet, but his wingspan is plus one and as soon as he grows into that head he is going to be something. It’s early, but expectations are high for young Jack.”
John Harbaugh agreed. “I don’t agree with that but I like Jim’s comment. Jim said that little Jack is going to be playing football, right? That’s one less kid to compete with. I like that comment. Football is a great game. Anybody that’s played the game knows what a great game it is. What it provides for young people, what it provides for people like me is an opportunity to grow as a person. It’s challenging, it’s tough, it’s hard. There’s no game like football. It’s the type of sport that brings out the best in you, it kind of shows you who you are.
"When you get done playing football, my dad tells this story all the time about a guy named Ralph ... basically you have an opportunity to make your first tackle or make your first block or do something in football, because it’s such a tough thing; it’s a little bit of a manhood test a little bit. When you get done you say, ‘You know what, I’m a football player. I play the game of football and that makes me special a little bit.’ I think it’s a huge part of our educational system in this country and it’s going to be around for a long time.” No question that it will be, but one has to wonder what the game will look like a generation from now, as a higher percentage of the best young athletes turn to other games