Mike Luckovich makes a rude point on a day traditionally devoted to guacamole and cliches.
Football is the only sport I follow anymore, and I really enjoy football.
To return to a recent conversation here, nobody is required to like the things I like. I'd rather watch "The Borgias" than "Downton Abbey." I don't think either is great entertainment, but I think one of them is greatly entertaining.
Your mileage may vary. That's why they have more than one channel, or why Netflix offers more than ... well, you get it.
As for those who feel they are above it all, spare me.
"Hating" football, or sports in general, without knowing the difference between a linesman and a linebacker, puts you on the same astute critical footing as those who look at Swan Lake and ask why they don't just hire taller girls.
How whimsically amusing. Now, run along while the grownups talk.
But the issue of brain damage is not funny and has become the elephant in the locker room.
For those who don't follow the sport, and have avoided non-sports coverage of this issue, some very bright, articulate men have, over the course of time, had significant and debilitating brain damage, not from one particular event but from the effect of repeated contact.
The problem came to the fore when Dave Duerson, a very well-spoken player in his time, had the social consciousness and loyalty to the sport to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest, with the request that his brain be donated to research on the dementia he was suffering.
Not so the sport would be banned. So the risk factors could be understood.
And it's not simple.
Duerson, and fellow-victim Junior Seau, played positions where impact came in the open field and involved high-speed, abrupt collisions. But player-turned-actor Alex Karras, another victim of this dementia, played on the line, where the hits were at lower speeds and less dramatic, but occurred on every play.
Moreover, it's unpredictable: Steve Young's career ended after a series of concussions left him in such a state that people urged him to quit, both for his own health and because his play was no longer dependable. Yet today he is a clear-thinking and articulate commentator, having apparently suffered no permanent damage.
There are, of course, fans who don't much care about this, but they are the loud fringe people. Most fans of the game are concerned with the problem of preserving the fun and excitement of the game without endangering the health of the players.
It's enough of an issue that, in a much more wide-ranging interview in New Republic, the president was asked about it:
FF: Sticking with the culture of violence, but on a much less dramatic scale: I'm wondering if you, as a fan, take less pleasure in watching football, knowing the impact that the game takes on its players.
OBAMA: 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. 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. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much.
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. 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. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about.
There has been pushback, predictably from those who would criticize the president if he came out against eating kittens, but also from those who genuinely love the game and can't see it changing without being destroyed entirely.
But, while some players and coaches sound the same note the president did about grown men choosing to take on the risk, others echo his concerns about younger players, and for every athlete quoted as saying he would encourage his kids to play, it seems there is another who shares Obama's reluctance.
There have also been some experienced players who point out that the increasing speed and size of players (and, no, it's not all drug-enduced) is changing the level of violence -- as distinct from "action" -- in the game.
The response we've seen so far from the NFL is a mixed bag: It's encouraging that helmet-to-helmet contact is being flagged, but it's hard to tell exactly what happens at the speed at which the game is played and there have been unfair penalties. These are growing pains that can be resolved.
And it's good that the league is requiring teams to be more aware of concussions and to sit players out, but, first of all, there needs to be better and more consistent sideline monitoring, and, second, they'll probably need to increase the number of players a team can carry. Again, it can be worked out.
Meanwhile, telling players they can't play will always be a challenge. There was no logical reason for Muhammed Ali to get back in the ring as often as he did in the latter part of his career, but he was a competitor and competitors need to compete.
We see the results.
My best hope is that they will discover some reason why certain people fall prey to this phenomenon while others do not. It's not a naive hope, though I realize that, even if they find a factor, it may not be entirely clear in every case.
But I remember two Bronco stars, Rick Upchurch and Otis Armstrong, whose careers ended because of a diagnosis of (differing) spinal abnormalities that increased the risk of serious damage. (In Upchurch's case, that link indicates that two colleges had declined to sign him because of the condition. That's got to become a more universal reaction to this sort of thing.)
If you could examine a kid and tell if he were vulnerable to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it would certainly make decisions easier.
Including the decision to watch the game without, as the president noted, having "to examine our consciences quite as much."