While on the campaign trail in October 2016, Donald Trump mocked the National Football League for becoming “soft” by taking measures to prevent player concussions, which he dismissed as “a little ding on the head.”
Speaking at a rally in Florida in October 2016, he said, “The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft.”
But in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” aired ahead of today’s Super Bowl, the US president admitted he wouldn’t steer his 12-year-old son Barron toward American football, calling it “a dangerous sport.”
In this Trump joins many NFL fans who are torn between their love for the game and concern about athletes’ and their children’s health, especially with mounting evidence of widespread brain injuries. Players routinely take hard hits to the head, and helmets can only offer so much protection. A 2017 study found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—a disease that can lead to confusion, depression, and memory loss—in the brains of 99% of deceased NFL veterans examined. In 2015, the NFL settled a lawsuit over head injuries to former players, and has so far paid out more than $600 million to retired players.
Many football fans are also repelled by the NFL’s blackballing of quarterback Colin Kaepernick over his kneeling protest against racial injustice, and the rapper Cardi B says she refused to perform the Super Bowl halftime show for that reason. On this count, however, Trump has no moral qualms: “You can’t be kneeling for the national anthem” he told CBS.
Barron, who is 12, plays soccer. Trump said that he had “thought soccer would probably never make it in this country, but it really is moving forward rapidly.”
Indeed, Major League Soccer in the US has seen steady growth in attendance, viewers, and franchise values. Soccer players from the US are also emerging on the world scene. Last month, news broke that Pennsylvania native Christian Pulisic was heading to England’s Premier League, with Chelsea Football Club paying nearly $73 million to sign him. That means he’ll make as much as some top American football players—with much less risk to his health.