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Article updated: 1/29/2013 5:39 AM

President Obama fears effects of football

By Mike Imrem

A good guess is that the Super Bowl will be on a TV in the Oval Office this Sunday.

What could be more important than dipping tortilla chips into salsa while watching the 49ers and Ravens jar each other's skulls loose?

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "Mr. President, the Taliban invaded Rhode Island and currently occupy downtown Providence."

President Barack Obama: "Take two aspirin and call me at halftime."

Obama is a big football fan but told The New Republic that if he had a son he would have to consider not letting him play this vicious game.

"It'll be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older," cracked 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday, referring to his 4-month old son.

Obama wouldn't have created more of a sports controversy if he said he wouldn't allow one of his daughters to be Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend.

Oh for the good old days when the fussiest presidential football fuss was Richard Nixon, as legend has it, submitting a play for Redskins coach George Allen to run in a playoff game.

Remember, the president is the commander-in-chief with the authority to order American men and women into combat. But Obama isn't sure he would let a son play football.

Like many in this country, the President fears the game he loves and loves the game he fears.

While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell institutes rules to make football safer, one survey indicates 61 percent of players don't like him.

TV networks highlight violent collisions as if there is no connection to players limping and drooling later in life.

Others of us in other media glamorize this year's rough, tough, physical Super Bowl teams for comprising a throwback matchup.

Throwback to what? Well, maybe the 49ers and Ravens are throwbacks to more than a century ago when another U.S. president had concerns about football.

Here's something from something called the Theodore Roosevelt Association and an article titled "TR Saves Football":

"As originally played on college campuses, the game was extremely rough, including slugging, gang tackling and unsportsmanlike behavior."

Makes football now seem like a game of two-hand touch.

"Quite a number of players died (18 in 1905 alone, with 20 times fewer players than there are today)."

That makes football now seem like a game of two-hand knitting.

"Interest in becoming a football player was declining!"

President Roosevelt didn't whine about it to a magazine. He summoned representatives of Big Three football programs Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House.

"In his best table-thumping style, Theodore Roosevelt convinced them that the rules needed changing to eliminate foul play and brutality … The game became less dangerous to play, injuries and deaths decreased, and it became fun to watch."

Make football too safe today and many fans will find it impossible to watch.

This game is what we have evolved into as a people, so we find ways to rationalize the carnage: Football doesn't cause concussions; helmets cause concussions.

It's likely that more teenage boys today still would prefer being quarterback of a Super Bowl champion than president of the United States.

As long as that's the case, football isn't going anywhere. It's like a double-threat quarterback: You can't stop it; you can only hope to contain it.

To protect the boys-to-men playing the game, maybe Barack Obama should convene a football summit the way Teddy Roosevelt did.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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