WASHINGTON, D.C.-Like many parents with young sons, President Donald Trump said football was a dangerous sport and that he would have a hard time letting his son Barron play given the risk of head injuries.
“If he wanted to? Yes. Would I steer him that way? No, I wouldn’t,” Trump told CBS’s Margaret Brennan ahead of the Super Bowl on Sunday.
“I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football — I mean, it’s a dangerous sport and I think it’s — I — it’s — really tough, I thought the equipment would get better, and it has. The helmets have gotten far better but it hasn’t solved the problem,” Trump added.
“So, you know I — I hate to say it because I love to watch football. I think the NFL is a great product, but I really think that as far as my son — well, I’ve heard NFL players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So it’s not totally unique, but I — I would have a hard time with it.”
Barron, 12, is more interested in soccer anyway, Trump said.
Trump’s comments come amid a growing recognition that football’s high-impact collisions can lead to concussions and other head injuries that can cause long-lasting health issues, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Youth participation in tackle football has declined in recent years as parents have become more wary of the risks tied to playing the sport.
The NFL has attempted to address the issue by changing its rules to penalize the most violent helmet-to-helmet hits and to create standard protocols for dealing with head injuries. But the rule changes can only do so much in a sport that revolves around powerful and fast humans slamming into each other.
Trump, who has a long and combative history with the NFL, has previously criticized these new rules, saying they have made the game soft.
“Concussion? Oh, got a little ding on the head, no, no you can’t play for the rest of the season,” he mockingly said in October 2016.
“They are ruining the game,” he said of the NFL’s rules in September 2017. “Look, that’s what (players) want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit.”
His comments on Sunday, though, are not dissimilar to President Barack Obama’s wariness toward football. Although he has two daughters, Obama told the New Yorker in 2014 that he would not let a hypothetical son play pro football.
Later in the CBS interview, Trump was also asked about NFL players like Colin Kaepernick who have knelt during the national anthem as a protest of police brutality.
At a rally in September 2017, Trump said NFL owners should fire the “son of a b****” protesting. But in his CBS interview, he took a more measured tone.
“I think that when you want to protest, I think that’s great. But I don’t think you do it at the sake of our flag, at the sake of our national anthem,” he said.
He said he understood the motivation for the protest and pointed to his work passing a criminal justice reform law. His issue with the kneeling, he said, was the place and time of it.
“I think that people have to, at all times, respect our flag and at all times respect our net — our — our national anthem and our country. And I think there are plenty of places and times you can protest and you can do a lot. But you can’t do that. That’s my opinion,” Trump said.