Obama Says Football Head Injuries Should Prod Review of Rules

President Barack Obama expressed concern about violence and injuries in professional and intercollegiate football, saying he would “think long and hard” if he had a son before allowing him to play.

Obama, an avowed sports fan and the father of two daughters, said in an interview with The New Republic magazine that the National Collegiate Athletic Association in particular should consider rules changes in view of emerging evidence on long-term health consequences of head blows suffered by players.

He said he is “more worried” about amateur college players than professional National Football League players who are “grown men” represented by a union and paid a salary.

“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,” Obama said in the interview, to be published in the magazine’s Feb. 11 issue. “That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”

Obama predicted that football rules will “probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.”

He said that, while rules changes to tamp down violence, “may make it a little bit less exciting,” the result “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.”

The family of Junior Seau, the all-pro linebacker who committed suicide in May, sued the NFL on Jan. 23, claiming his death resulted from repeated head injuries he suffered on the field.

Player Lawsuit

More than 3,000 former players have sued the NFL for damages for head injuries. The complaints, which are consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia, accuse the league of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries.

Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who played the last of his 20 NFL seasons in 2009, was 43 when he shot himself in the chest at his home in Oceanside, California. The National Institutes of Health said Jan. 10 that brain-tissue samples showed Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease diagnosed after death.

Seau’s suicide followed that of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, an 11-year veteran who shot himself in February 2011 at age 50; and Ray Easterling, an eight-year player with the Atlanta Falcons who killed himself two weeks before Seau at age 62. An autopsy on Duerson found similar traumatic brain injury.

Evidence has been mounting that repeated concussions harm brains.

A study of 34 retired NFL players published Jan. 7 in the journal JAMA Neurology linked mental deficits in former players with changes in brain structure. About 25 percent of the retired players suffered with clinical depression, higher than the 15 percent seen in the general population. The researchers also found physical abnormalities in the brains of some the athletes in medical scans.

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