Super Bowl coaches, players weigh in on Obama comments
NEW ORLEANS — President Barack Obama almost is relieved he has two daughters rather than two sons. If he did, he wouldn't want them to grow up to be Cowboys — or Steelers.
As much as he professes to love football, the president wouldn't look forward to what he knows would be anxious nights watching games that, because of the sport's violent nature, create the possibility of a catastrophic injury on every play.
“If I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” Obama said.
On a day when football's very excesses are celebrated — Media Day at the Super Bowl, where the stage is bigger than big, the crowd of quote-seeking reporters larger than large — the president found several sympathetic advocates.
Where he found them was the surprise — among the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens, whose physicality helps forge the NFL's not-entirely unwanted image of offering up extreme violence on turf.
While his coach, John Harbaugh, advocates playing football as a way for young athletes to grow into men, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta isn't excited about the possibility that his future children might play the sport he reached at its highest level.
“I probably would say the same, (as the president),” Pitta said Tuesday. “I don't know if I would want my sons to play football. It's a violent sport. I think there was evidence of that last week.”
That evidence was Pitta being leveled by a huge hit from Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo in the AFC Championship Game. Pitta cut across the middle to make a catch, only to be rocked as Mayo slammed into him an instant later.
“I took a pretty-monster hit from Mayo. It's a violent sport, and I think it's part of the game. It's a great sport, and I'm fortunate to be able to play it. But you do have to be careful just because of the violence,” Pitta said. “It's certainly something to think about. Concussions are an issue. There's a lot of unknowns there.”
Ravens safety Ed Reed, a renowned hitter, also said he's not “forcing football” on his son. And teammate Bernard Pollard, perhaps the Ravens' biggest hitter, fears the NFL's first-on field fatality as players grow larger and collisions become more violent.
Football's long-term dangers are exposed when former players such as Junior Seau die far ahead of their time — a doctor said Seau displayed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has shown up in a number of former players.
Still, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, the brother of the Ravens coach, takes the opposite and more traditional approach of a football-infatuated father.
“Well, I have a 4-month old, almost 5-month old son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way then there will be a little bit less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets old,” Harbaugh said, referring to a son who was named for Jim Harbaugh's football coach father. “It's still early. Like I said, Jack is only 5 months old. He is a really big kid. He has an enormous head. We don't have a 40 (time) on him yet, but his wingspan is plus one, and as soon as he grows into that head, he is going to be something. It's early, but expectations are high for young Jack.”
Not surprisingly, John Harbaugh agrees.
“There's no game like football. It's the type of sport that brings out the best in you. It kind of shows you who you are,” the Ravens coach said. “(As a young player), basically you have an opportunity to make your first tackle or make your first block or do something in football because it's such a tough thing; it's a little bit of a manhood test. When you get done you say, ‘You know what, I'm a football player.' I think it's a huge part of our educational system in this country, and it's going to be around for a long time.”
As player safety takes on greater importance, football must change, Obama said, especially college football.
“It will probably change gradually to try to reduce the violence,” he told The New Republic. “And in some cases, that will make it less exciting.”
Perhaps, even, for the next Jack Harbaugh.