And For Youth, Presidential Silence
Barack Obama is not stupid. He knows not to say he doesn't like apple pie, believes Christmas should not be a national holiday, or think banks should be nationalized. (For a long time he knew not to say he supports same-sex marriage. Then Joe Biden gave him religion.) Even saying he's from Kenya or is really a Muslim probably would be less damaging politically. He knows not to get between parents and the sports their offspring play.
That's probably why he left something out in his interview for the 1/27/14 edition of The New Yorker when he told The New Yorker's David Remnick, who wrote "On and Off the Road with Barack Obama"
At one point on the trip from Andrews Air Force Base to Seattle, I was invited up front for a conversation. Obama was sitting at his desk watching the Miami Dolphins–Carolina Panthers game. Slender as a switch, he wore a white shirt and dark slacks; a flight jacket was slung over his high-backed leather chair. As we talked, mainly about the Middle East, his eyes wandered to the game. Reports of multiple concussions and retired players with early-onset dementia had been in the news all year, and so, before I left, I asked if he didn’t feel at all ambivalent about following the sport. He didn’t.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” he conceded. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”
Good luck with that, fellow, barring your mythical 21-year-old son (his likely age upon being eligible for the NFL draft) from going into the NFL. It's likely that the prospect of a contract for a few million, or even a few hundred thousand, dollars will trump your advice.
An individual entering the National Football League, with skill, hard work, and some luck, can be on the precipice of earning money to make himself fabulously rich. Surely, he is a young adult who, along the way, may be headed toward a head injury (video from ESPN from a few years ago, below) with major, long-term repercussions. But advice from an older adult will not deter him from pursuing his life-long dream of doing for a living what he enjoys and being able to provide very handsomely for himself, his family, and his heirs at the same time, thank you very much.
Efforts at reducing head injuries in the NFL, at times encouraged and at other times resisted by the NFL, need to intensify. So does research, which as PBS' Frontline last spring reported, the league has been prone to suppress. But professional football players are just that- professionals- as well as adults, beyond the reach of in loco parentis. Dr. Anna McKee, director of neuropathology at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Massachusetts, has studied the brains of dozens of deceased football players for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) A portion of her interview with Frontline (video, here; applicable portion begins at 37:31) for League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis follows ("Q:" added):
Q: If you had children who were 8 and 10 and 12, would they play football?
Eight, 10, 12? No, they would not.
Because the way football is being played currently, that I've seen, it's dangerous. It's dangerous, and it could impact their long-term mental health. You only get one brain. The thing you want your kids to do most of all is succeed in life and be everything they can be. And if there's anything that may infringe on that, that may limit that, I don't want my kids doing it.
Q: High school OK?
You know, I just don't feel like I'm in a position to say anything is OK right now. I'm not going to -- I'm not even sure about high school football, even well-managed high school football. We see this in some high schoolers. Let's figure out what this is and how to prevent it, and then I'll say we should all be playing football
I have a lot of college football players in my Brain Bank with CTE.
I don't think it's just a disease of professional players. That's what I'm saying. You know, we've seen it- I don't know where the counts are now, but I've seen it in a number of college-level players. Now, what distinguishes that player from the player who doesn't get it, that's what we need to know. That's what we need to know tomorrow so we can prevent this in college and younger players.
While President Obama recognizes the danger concussions present for pro football players, he does not publicly address the greater danger head injuries pose for younger people. Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston university School of Medicine maintains "The young child is particularly vulnerable to head injury.... We believe that kids under the age of 14 should not play college sports as they are currently played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football." (As, thankfully, fewer now seem to be.) While the NFL has instituted rules changes to reduce the incidence of such injury, children throughout the country but heads and dream of the glory of a professional football career. If Barack Obama- who has stood for elective office for the last time- wants to display a little courage and have a lasting impact on the lives of future generations, he can applaud Dr. McKee's remarks and remind parents that youthful football players are more at risk of brain injury than are professionals.