Lawmakers, Obama butt heads on football

President Obama said he wouldn’t let his son play pro football, but many lawmakers have a different perspective.

An avid pigskin fan, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he understands the risks.

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“I coached [my sons], and I make sure they tackle well, and they tackle appropriately ... it's a sport that comes with inherent risk, just like snowboarding, ice skating, bike riding and soccer. [Those sports] have a huge number of concussions,” the former Tarkio College football player explained.

Awareness of the concussion risks and pulling players off the field have been important steps to catch head injuries before they lead to permanent brain damage, former Notre Dame football player Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said.

The risk of brain injury concerns Rep. Tom Rooney, the grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney. The Florida Republican encourages his three boys to play football, basketball and baseball. Still, he would prefer they play noncontact sports.

His oldest has transitioned to contact football, a move that Rooney discouraged, asking his son to play flag football until entering high school.

“I have a problem with the fact that my son is 12 and playing full-pad football, which turned into a huge fight, and I lost as usual,” he said, noting that he suffered a concussion in while playing in college.

“Everything turned yellow,” Rooney recalled.

Not all lawmakers are willing to overlook those risks.

Democratic Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) asked his grandson to quit playing football because of the potential for brain injuries.

“I strongly urged my grandson to quit,” the No. 3 ranking House Democrat told The Hill, adding that his grandson “never answered me, but he finally quit.”

Recent polls show that a growing number of respondents do not want their kids to play football.

Obama addressed the matter of football-related concussions in an interview with in The New Yorker, when he said, "I would not let my son play pro football."

Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), a former offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, has given and taken his share of violent hits.

Last year, at the tail-end of his sophomore year in high school, the lawmaker's son committed to play football at the University of Michigan.

Sources close to Runyan suggest the two-term House member opted against running for reelection this year, in part, to be able to see his son carry on the family legacy at the member's alma mater.

The issue of concussions in high school and college football has garnered the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced at least 10 bills that would address concussions in football.

Not one of those measures has made it out of the respective committees to which they were referred.

Recently, the NFL endorsed legislation offered by New Jersey Democrats Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell.

The Garden State lawmakers this week issued a press statement announcing the NFL support for the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act, which would authorize a five-year grant program for states to “provide professional development for athletic trainers and coaches and ensure schools have adequate medical staff” to recognize and treat possible concussions, according to a press release.

Pascrell teamed up with Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) in 2011 to sponsor a bill that would require high schools to provide the latest, up-to-date helmets.

But Kelly, who concedes that “head injuries are real serious,” says Congress should be focusing its attention elsewhere.

“You get to a point where there's great technology out there today. It's constantly improving. But the question is: How good is good enough? How safe is safe enough? I'd like to see us concentrate on a lot of different things like getting people back to work. … Making sure people don't get hurt playing football is a concern but not nearly as great a concern as the people who are getting hurt by a bad economy,” he said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a former college football placekicker, joked he was smart enough to play a position where his opponents were penalized for touching him: "That's the one spot that's safe enough for my son."

The Utah Republican said football is “probably safer today than it has been, coaching is probably better,” than when he played.

Even with his concerns, Rooney acknowledges he can’t deny his sons the joy of playing football.

“You will never ever have another moment in your life that matches catching a touchdown pass, getting a sack or even the moment in the huddle where you are with everybody. And you are using the F-bomb, but you're on the goal line and this is to win the game. There is nothing better than that in the world,” Rooney said.