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Friday, February 1, 2013

Football Made Me Mad at the President

Well, I avoided it all through the early debates, the primaries, the political conventions, the campaign, the election, and even the inauguration. I went through all of that and kept my cool at the President (and those who wanted to be president).

Okay, well, that's not exactly true. I got plenty irritated, annoyed, frustrated, and flustered during the election season. But through all of that, it took the President's comments on football to make me mad. Apparently the President thinks the game is too violent.

Okay, well, I'm not really mad. But I am irritated, annoyed, frustrated and flustered with President Obama's recent comments on football. And I am especially irritated, annoyed, frustrated and flustered that the President of the United States is giving into the hype about the dangers of football.

Walt Deptula, host of Road Rage on WCCP 104.9, has been saying for months that politicians and sports writers and pundits and lawyers will all look to make a name for themselves--as well as a few dollars--by making football out to be worse than anything ever produced by the Coliseum in Rome.

Rush Limbaugh has made the same argument. Although agreeing with these two makes me break out in hives and run a mid-grade fever, I have no choice. Such comments from the highest office in the land will just pour gasoline on this fair sized brush fire.

Football isn't going to end at the NFL level. It's going to end at the rec league level, and perhaps the high school or even college level. And the more we hear from politicians on the issue, and the more we see sensationalized news stories like the ones coming out about the late Junior Seau, the more likely it is that football as we know it will come to an end.

The truth is that these reports ignore other studies that indicate these issues are less widespread. Make no mistake that the game needs to be safer and there is MUCH that can be done, particularly by the NFL, to help that. But overblowing the issue with half the facts is not the way to manage this.

Much of the testing regarding Seau and other NFL greats involves the long-term impact of concussions sustained over the course of a career. Much of that career is played at maximum speed at the highest levels of the sport. Seau's career spanned 17 years at the position of middle linebacker, where he rarely missed a game.

Little Johnny probably isn't going to play middle linebacker for 25 days, much less 25 years. In fact, Little Johnny may never be good enough to start in high school, much less college or the NFL (no matter how good Little Johnny's dad thinks he is). Thousands upon thousands of boys--and a few girls--who play football will never be exposed to any kind of long-term head trauma.

But Little Johnny's parents aren't going to hear that. They're going to hear the President and ABC News talking about all these dangers and these extreme cases. And they'll carry Little Johnny to the soccer field or the baseball field (in spite of the fact that other sports have plenty of injury risk).

Let's say they do let Little Johnny don the pads, and he does get hurt. Let's say that, heaven forbid, it's a head injury. And let's say a lawyer happens to get into mom and dad's ear to suggest the injury wasn't properly handled by the coach or the referees or the league or the school.

One lawsuit is all it's going to take. That gives the sharks a taste of the blood in the water, and the insurance companies the justification to hike up their rates.

How many coaches will be willing to take on a 10-year old team when they worry that parents will sue them after their child gets injured? How many recreation departments can afford huge insurance or legal fees in order to keep the games going?

For that matter, how many high schools or small colleges can sustain those costs?

I try not to buy into "slippery slope" arguments. But when the President of the United States is one of the people tilting the slide, it's pretty hard not to.

There are numerous things that need to happen to make football safer, and the NFL needs to take the lead on them (more on that Monday). But hyping up the tragedy of a few and ignoring the facts of the many is not the way to do it.

So, Mr. President, please step away from the ledge on football. Don't believe the hype, and don't speak without all of the facts on the situation. Your comments can do unnecessary harm to the game you love.

And please, don't ever say anything again that will force me to agree with Rush Limbaugh.

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