President Barack Obama said he’s glad the National Football League is clamping down on athlete misbehavior in the wake of the domestic abuse case involving Ray Rice and after years of professional ballplayers getting into trouble.
“You’ve got responsibilities to your fans and your employers,” Obama said today in a live interview from the White House on ESPN Radio. “And you’ve got to be treated the same way as other people when you do make mistakes.”
He said the NFL has “been a little bit of an old boys’ network” and has been “behind the curve” in sending a clear message about appropriate behavior. Some of that also reaches into college sports, he said.
The interview on ESPN was the first of three radio spots Obama is doing live or taped today to promote enrollment in the nationwide health-insurance program that is his signature domestic initiative. He used a Dec. 8 appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to make the same pitch.
Obama has been targeting young audiences with a pitch to sign up for coverage under Obamacare as the next enrollment deadline approaches on Dec. 15, when people who want coverage beginning Jan. 1 must sign up. Open enrollment runs through February. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the government will probably surpass its goal of 9.1 million sign-ups by the time the enrollment period ends.
The young men who dominate ESPN’s audience historically have been among the hardest to enroll in health insurance. Men ages 18 to 34 are more likely to be uninsured than the average person in the U.S. with 16.5 percent of them lacking insurance in 2014 compared with 11.3 percent of the population at large, according to Enroll America, a Washington-based group that organizes Obamacare enrollment efforts.
“Young men, particularly, think they’re indestructible,” Obama said.
The interview also touched on Obama’s television viewing habits -- he frequently watches ESPN while working out in the morning and occasionally has a game on with the sound off while going through briefing books at night. It also covered his thoughts on professional basketball.
While Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has helped Obama promote the health-care law, the president said he thinks his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, will finish ahead in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Obama cited James, along with boxer Muhammad Ali and the late tennis player Arthur Ashe as examples of athletes in the past who have used their fame to push for causes.
Some of the nation’s biggest sports heroes “spoke out on issues that mattered at pretty critical times,” Obama said. “For athletes to recognize they’re citizens as well as entertainers and they’ve got a voice that’s legitimate, I think is important.”
He didn’t address the most recent public activism from athletes involving the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. Professional basketball players including James and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and their teammates showed up for game warm-ups in T-shirts bearing the slogan, “I Can’t Breathe.”
Those were the last words of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, who died after a police officer put him in a choke hold to subdue him on New York’s Staten Island. A grand jury declined to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in his death.