He doesn’t have a son — that we know of — but that didn’t stop President Obama from weighing in on the pro football concussion controversy.
The president made those comments in a wide-ranging interview appearing in The New Yorker today.
President Obama said that he believed NFL players “know what they’re doing” and understood the impact that concussions could have on their long-term health in an interview with The New Yorker published on Sunday, adding that he would not let his son play pro football.
“At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” Obama said. “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?”
In August, the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement in a lawsuit brought against the league by former players. The league did not admit any liability or that brain injuries were the result of playing football, but the money will be split among former players and medical researchers. A federal judge has not yet approved the deal.
Existing research has shown that repeated concussions can be associated with memory loss and behavioral changes. They’re also linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease.
The president made the comments while speaking aboard Air Force One with David Remnick, the magazine’s editor and a former sportswriter for The Washington Post.
Obama said that while the risks were understood, if he had a son, he would not allow him to play professional football.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”
Note that the president didn’t say Pee Wee football, or high school football, or even college football — all three levels that he would have a lot more influence over the decision of whether a child of his should play football. Presumably, an adult child could tell his father Barack where to stick his decision not to let him play pro ball. But there are millions of fathers out there who encourage their sons to play football despite the dangers to growing bones, tendons, and ligaments.
So basically, his statement is meaningless, while it avoids offending those parents who allow their kids to play ball.
The president also made a few other statements that will probably cause some controversy.
1. His approval numbers — both positive and negative — are the result of race.
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president,” Obama said in the article by David Remnick, appearing in the magazine’s Jan. 27 edition.
“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president,” Obama said in his most direct comments on how race has affected his political standing since he’s been in office.
2. Obama said that legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington may not be a good thing because it will lead to calls for legalization of other drugs. But he said marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol:
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told the weekly magazine.
The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
“It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” he said.
3. The president said that “presidents don’t start with a clean slate,” and that even if few of his initiatives are passed, they are likely to be adopted at some point in the future:
“One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as president is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,” Obama told Remnick. “You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward. And sometimes the things that start small may turn out to be fairly significant.”
This is actually a fairly profound view of the presidency. Sometimes those things you set in motion prove to be disastrous (“Great Society”), and sometimes they’re positively earth shaking (“Tear down this wall”). The question is, does Obama know the difference? Can he know the difference?
On such matters are presidents judged by history.