It used to be that our presidents’ involvement with football didn’t go far beyond that of being a fan.
Oh, there was that moment in 1969 when Richard M. Nixon, who would have far more important things to worry about later in his presidency, attended Texas’ 15-14 victory over Arkansas and presented the Longhorns with a post-game plaque, declaring them national champions, while an undefeated Penn State team, which had the nation’s longest winning streak at 15 games, seethed.
But mostly they would restrict themselves to rooting for their alma maters or sitting on the sidelines of the Army-Navy game, changing their seats at halftime.
Now, however, President Barack Obama has inserted himself into a controversial aspect of today’s game, proclaiming in an article in The New Republic that he is isn’t sure he would let his son play football because of the physical dangers and the long-term impact it has been shown to have upon its participants.
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” President Obama is quoted as saying in the Feb. 11 edition of the magazine.
“And 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.”
Obama’s position is not without precedent.
At the turn of the 20th century, football was a popular but brutal game, so much so that in 1904 The Chicago Tribune reported 18 deaths attributed to football and 159 serious injuries, most of them in prep football.