- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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It was an E.F. Hutton or Jim Rohn moment, and it damn sure was noticed.
President Barack Obama's statement grabbed headlines, news leads and Twitter feeds, and what he said about the game of football caused a collective pause.
"I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it 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," he told Franklin Foer in The New Republic interview that shared Monday's news cycle with the end of Beyoncégate and Tiger Woods' lead (and eventual victory) at Torrey Pines.
In the president's comment, he used the word -- not sidestepping the question's setup -- that the NFL wishes he would not have used: violence.
The thing with Obama's "if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football" statement is that he gives the conversation legs it never had. There is growing understanding of the long-term health effects of playing football, especially with new research into head injuries and concussions. Whether it's the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the autopsy of a high school player such as Nathan Stiles or a Hall of Famer such as Junior Seau, more of America now has concerns involving a sport we have embraced to represent who we are -- a sport that represents America more than our original national pastime.
This isn't Bryant Gumbel rightfully bitching about something else commissioner Roger Goodell did wrong or has failed to do right. This isn't Ravens safety Bernard Pollard overdramatizing that, because of the rule changes to make the game safer, "30 years from now I don't think [the game] will be in existence." This isn't "Head Games," the documentary that could be the "Fahrenheit 9/11" of sports. This is the president of the United States questioning whether he would let a child of his play the same sport that past presidents (Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, among others) played at the collegiate level.
Now we know that anything, absolutely anything, a modern president says will be politicized, and a certain portion of the public will ignore or dispute his statements on partisan grounds alone.
But President Obama said something on behalf of millions of Americans. He said something that will resonate with millions of Americans. It's a position millions can empathize with. That's what commanders in chief do.
When the president said "and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much," he validated concerns and opened up a dialogue for the country to address the true jeopardy football and its participants are in. He raised questions that current and former NFL players were then asked to answer the week before the Super Bowl. That's what commanders in chief who say they love football do.
Is this the turning point? Is this where the tide and climate of the game finally and seriously change? Is this what it is going to take for the NFL, the CFL, the NCAA, the NFHS, Pop Warner and others to realize that America could turn on football the way it did on boxing or turn away to other interests the way it did with baseball?
"There are safety concerns with everything in life," my cousin wrote me in response to my question to him about whether he is going to have reservations about letting his 8-year old son play football when he gets older.
"Teenage driving kills more than football, but people don't second-guess their children obtaining their license. I have had friends die from guns, cars, drugs, alcohol and disease. I do not have one friend dead from football. Out of the friends who played football, I bet you a few would have fallen from one of those previous mentioned elements if not occupied with football. I am giving James the same option I was given; he can play in high school if he wants. If he is talented enough to play beyond that, he will be an adult and educated on potential outcomes and will have to make a decision. Hopefully, we will have nurtured other options, and he will not feel like football is his only ticket."
Now back to reality.
When a president speaks, many people listen. If they agree, they tend to follow. Not his every word, but his ideology, his frame of thought.
"I am with Obama," Baltimore future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed said during media day. "I have a son. I am not forcing football on my son. If he wants to play it I can't make decisions for him. All I can do is say, 'Son, I played it so you don't have to.'"
Obama made some comments that essentially put the future of football at stake. The stakes remain high.
It's quite simple: If football has become a sport that the president of these United States has to "wrestle with" when thinking about his own kids, why should we involve ours? The truth is that even if you don't think he's right about this, he most definitely is not wrong.
1dEric D. Williams