Student Well-Being

Obama Urges NCAA to Be More Proactive About Football Safety

By Bryan Toporek — January 28, 2013 2 min read
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In an interview with The New Republic published online Sunday, President Barack Obama urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to “think about” the safety of football.

“I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” Obama said in the interview. “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.”

As noted recently in a article by Patrick Hruby, the NCAA has been lacking in its response to football’s concussion crisis, especially when compared to the National Football League.

The NCAA’s concussion requirements for schools are as follows:

  • Each school must have a concussion-management plan that educates student-athletes about concussions;
  • Student-athletes suspected of concussions must be removed from play and not allowed back that day; and
  • Student-athletes removed for a concussion must obtain medical clearance before returning to play.

Page 57 of the NCAA’s 2012-13 Sports Medicine Handbook includes a number of suggested best practices, including requiring each school to have an emergency action plan, outlying the roles of nurses, athletic trainers and physicians in the concussion-management plan, and the use of baseline cognitive tests such as ImPACT or Axon Sports. None of these best practices are required, however.

Obama wasn’t just targeting the NCAA in this interview, however. He called the entirety of football into question for safety.

“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,” the president said. “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.”

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, has been steadying the wind for these changes for the past few years. Just look at the recent “NFL Evolution” campaign, targeted at how the game has continued to evolve throughout the years.

After a 2011 speech to the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Goodell said that “everything was on the table” in terms of rule changes to reduce the likelihood of concussions. (He specifically called into question the three-point stance of linemen, a staple of the league.)

Kickoffs getting moved forward five yards is likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of rule changes coming.

Especially now that President Obama and other prominent “fans” are expressing concerns.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.