Presidents and football isn’t like the past

The Kennedy family used to play football on the South Lawn of the White House.

Gerald Ford was a center and linebacker on two national championship teams at the University of Michigan.

Ronald Reagan became famous for his film role as “The Gipper” in “Knute Rockne, All American.”

Richard Nixon, according to legend, suggested a reverse play to Redskins coach George Allen before a playoff game against the 49ers.

Football and the Presidency have long been intertwined. There’s something militaristic and powerful about football, which has made it an easy sport to which Presidents can gravitate.

That changed somewhat last week when President Obama, 50 years after John F. Kennedy was throwing fades, said if he had a son he’s not sure he’d allow him to play football because of the sport’s violent nature.

The times are a changin’, and I don’t like what I’m hearing. If the President has expressed his concerns, it’s settled then. Football, by my calculations, will cease to exist at about the same time social security goes belly up.

Just think about it: no football on Sundays. What’s a man to do other than to turn to the NBA? I’d rather be water-boarded.

When exactly did football became such a concern that the President felt compelled to step away from a smorgasbord of crises and throw in his two cents? For decades, the physicality of football was among the sport’s enduring qualities. If you want to make a man of your son, put a helmet on his head and let him loose.

Now that physical style that fans have cheered with gusto for decades could be the downfall of the NFL and perhaps eventually the college and high school games. We’ve long known that concussions happen frequently in the NFL. It’s just recently, however, that we’ve discovered the long-term effects they can have on athletes who have suffered multiple head traumas.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been trying to soften the game by promoting rule changes involving hits to the head-and-neck area. An unfortunate consequence has been weak penalty calls on instances where a defender accidentally brushes the helmet of a player, often times changing the course of a game.

Ravens defensive back Bernard Pollard recently predicted the end of the NFL within the next 30 years. His reasoning is that fans will grow tired of rule changes that are being made to compensate for the increased size and speed of the athletes.

Unless Goodell starts putting limits on the size of players, there’s nothing that can be done to totally curb the violence. Coaches are always looking for the biggest, strongest players possible at every position group. If they aren’t big enough, there are strength and conditioning coaches who will have them pushing locomotives, if necessary, to get them big enough.

On a trip to the naval dockyards in Norfolk years ago, I remember being awed by the size of the ships. I get the same feeling when I stand next to a NFL lineman in full gear.

I recall standing on the field at Cleveland Stadium after a 1980s game between the Browns and Oilers as running back Earl Campbell was walking toward the locker room. The size of his thighs was off the charts. How any defensive back would have had the guts to step in front of him was beyond me.

Smaller players and better technique are needed. The former isn’t going to happen if coaches want to keep their jobs. The technique part can start in the formative stages on the high school level, where helmets should never be considered weapons and form tackling is stressed in each practice.

The art of tackling in the NFL is a joke. Show me a defensive back that drives his shoulder into the chest of a running back and then wraps up. It doesn’t happen. All you needed as proof was to watch Pollard and Cary Williams throw their bodies at 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on a play in which Crabtree bounced off both defenders and scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The sport will always be violent. Unless the machismo factor is lessened and athletes learn how to play in a safer way, nothing will change.

Then again, Goodell can always mandate that the NFL play like the Kennedy family did, which was a friendly game of touch.