January 27, 2013, 8:31 am7 Comments
Obama on Football, and Contemplating a Death on the Field
By TONI MONKOVIC
The last time President Obama weighed in on a hot topic in football, in 2008, he was stumping for a college playoff: “If you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there’s no clear decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system.”
His wish will come to pass in the 2014 season, although not the eight-team playoff he was advocating.
In an interview with The New Republic conducted Jan. 16 and released Saturday, he touched on the sport in a more serious vein, saying, “I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”
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.
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. 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.
In an article by Clark Judge of CBSSports.com on Friday, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said a death on the field was all but inevitable:
“Like I said, I pray it never happens, but you’ve got guys who are 350 pounds running 4.5 and 4.4s, and these owners and coaches want scout-run blockers and linemen to move walls. At the same time, they tell you, ‘Don’t hit here, and don’t hit there, or we’ll take your money.’ Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, but I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going.”
Extra point Pollard delivered a mixed message at best, criticizing the league for safety measures and offering no solutions for his dire prediction. Another mixed message from players and their union is their foot-dragging on HGH testing. Starting this season, Major League Baseball will test for human growth hormone and high levels of testosterone, leaving the N.F.L. well behind on that score. Juliet Macur of The Times wrote last month:
A bipartisan group of lawmakers vented its frustration on Wednesday at the N.F.L. players union for not yet agreeing to put into effect a test for human growth hormone nearly two seasons after promising to do so. Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Elijah Cummings, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said the players union’s longstanding efforts to question the science behind the H.G.H. test were simply a way to “run out the clock” and avoid honoring its agreement with the league.
Further rules changes are coming, as President Obama suggested. HGH testing would be just one part of that — it’s far from a magic bullet. But the impact of blows could be reduced by removing chemically enhanced players from the field, and that’s setting aside the issue of fair play, which is another reason to strengthen testing. If Pollard and other players are truly concerned about football’s worst nightmare, maybe they should start there.