Obama Says Football Likely to ‘Change’ Because of Head Injuries

Obama is a longtime Chicago Bears fan, but in a recent interview he said if he had a son he would have to "think long and hard" about letting him play football.

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Obama thinks football will have to gradually start to change to reduce the violent nature of the game, especially in college football.

Obama is a football fan.  He’s said it before: he roots for his hometown Chicago Bears and has been known to throw the pigskin around the Oval Office.  But if he had a son, he said he would “have to think long and hard” before letting him on the field, according to the New York Daily News.

The head injuries that some football players face – sometimes leading to lifelong neurological maladies – has the President questioning whether the risks are worth it for college players, CNN reported.

“I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably [have to] change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence,” Obama said in an interview conducted Jan. 16 with the New Republic and released Saturday.

(MORE: Study Reveals How Concussions Can Trigger Depression)

The President seemed more worried about college players than NFL players because “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.”

However, he said college players encounter the same problems with concussions and other injuries as professional players, but “then have nothing to fall back on.”  He would like to see the NCAA – the National Collegiate Athletic Association – making the sport better for the players.

(MORE: Cheers for Matt Cassel’s Concussion: Why Sports Fans Applaud Injury)

With Super Bowl XLVII taking place this Sunday, coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh — who will face each other this weekend — commented on Obama’s opinion of the game.

(MORE: For the Super Bowl, a Family Affair)

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters:

“Well I have a 4-month old, almost 5-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… It’s still early. Like I said, Jack is only 5 months old. He is a really big kid. He has an enormous head. We don’t have a 40 [time] 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.”

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also disagreed with the President’s comments: “Football is a great game. And anybody who’s played the game knows what a great game it is, what it provides for young people, what it provided for people like me. I think it’s a huge part of our educational system in our country and it’s going to be around a long time,” according to the Denver Post.

However, Obama’s concerns about head injuries aren’t unfounded.  A study published last September by the medical journal Neurology suggested that professional football players are three times more likely to have neurodegenerative diseases than the general population, CNN reported.  And a study published in the journal of neurology Brain in 2009 found that people concussed in their youth show signs of mental and physical problems even more than 30 years later, BBC News reported.