President Barack Obama sparked controversy over the weekend when the transcript of his recent interview with The New Republic was released. The Commander-in-Chief talked about the usual stuff - international issues, political foes, taxes, etc. However, he set the sports world ablaze when he mentioned one word...football.
Why is he talking about football? Surely, there are more pressing issues for the leader of the free world to worry about. Taxes are growing while paychecks are shrinking. He has to deal with the controversy over guns and North Korea just threatened us...again...I think.
The President was asked specifically about the violence in football and the impact it can have on players. In case you haven't read his comments, here's part of what he had to say:
"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. And 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. 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."
Some people won't like what was said simply because of who said it. Well, that's your deal. For the rest of us, there is a lot of truth in what the President had to say. Football is inherently violent and has become more violent over time.
At the highest levels of football, players have world class strength and speed. Even the kids are bigger, stronger and faster than a generation ago. What do you think happens when that combination smashes into human flesh and bone repeatedly during a game? The effects can be immediately life-changing or they can be progressively debilitating.
Former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed after making a tackle in 2010. Chicago Bears legend Jim McMahon is suffering from the early stages of dementia. His girlfriend has to program their address into his GPS so McMahon can find his way home when he goes out.
I also have a friend who retired his son from football at age eight. The young man suffered a concussion and his dad called it a career. There are very real health concerns for football players of all ages and at all levels. The players are hurting and getting hurt and we have to do something about it.
Some will say I'm in the camp that's trying to turn tackle football into flag football. They'll say football is a tough sport and the athletes just need to "man up." OK, "man." What good is it to be a tough guy if you can't find your way home?"
Eric LeGrand was the strongest guy on the Rutgers team. He could squat over 600 pounds. Now, he cannot walk. What good is it to be able to lift the equivalent of three grown men and eventually not be able to lift yourself?
Football has to evolve. Other violent sports have. Boxing is not the 100-round, bare-knuckled brawl it was when Jack Johnson was the heavyweight champion. Can you imagine what Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield would have done to someone with their bare hands?
Mixed Martial Arts has scaled back from its no holds barred beginnings. That's why we don't see small-joint manipulation (i.e breaking fingers) or groin strikes in the UFC. Football can do the same. Deacon Jones used the headslap and "Night Train" Lane actually clotheslined receivers. Yet, there's no disputing that football is far more popular than it was in their day.
So, let's try and at least listen to the President and others. Football is a great sport and we must find a way to play it and enjoy it without putting the athletes at excessive risk.