Mixed opinions at Super Bowl about the dangers of the game

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh waits for

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh waits for the start of the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. (Jan. 20, 2013) (Credit: AP)

NEW ORLEANS -- With the Ravens and 49ers set to square off in Super Bowl XLVII in a matter of days, the battle over football itself once again has become a national talking point.

This time the conversation begins all the way at the top.

In a recent interview with The New Republic, President Barack Obama said if he had a son, he would have to "think long and hard" before allowing him to play football.

"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," Obama said. "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."

At the other end of the Goldilocks Spectrum -- trying to determine if football is too hard, too soft or just right -- Ravens safety Bernard Pollard told CBS Sports last week that the changes that are being implemented to save the sport could wind up destroying it.

"Thirty years from now, I don't think it will be in existence," Pollard said of the NFL. "I could be wrong. It's just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going -- where [NFL rules-makers] want to lighten up, and they're throwing flags and everything else -- there's going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it."

Even among the players here preparing for the sport's biggest game, there is some disagreement. Although most love football and the physical nature of it, there are some who worry about the repercussions. One of those concerned is, like Pollard, a Ravens safety. It's 11-year veteran Ed Reed.

"It makes you think," Reed said after going through his litany of injuries and physical issues. "It makes you think about your livelihood after football, how much you're going to have to spend to take care of your body, the toll that it puts on us. That's the biggest concern that the NFL has going on. Even President Obama has made a comment on it. The truth is that football does take its toll on our life and our body."

Most current players, however, disagreed with Obama, but some, including former players Kurt Warner and Hall of Famer Harry Carson, are having second thoughts about their children and grandchildren participating in the sport.

"I don't agree with that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Obama's concerns. "Football is a great game, and anybody who has played the game knows what a great game it is and what it provides for young people, what it provided for people like me, an opportunity to grow as a person.

"It's challenging, it's tough, it's hard. There is no game like football. It's the type of sport that brings out the best in you, it shows you who you are . . . It's a little of a manhood test, and when you get done, you say 'You know what? I'm a football player.' "

Or, as 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said: "It's not like we signed up and thought we were going to play tennis."

Obama's quandary about allowing a son to play football is hypothetical, as he has two daughters. But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has a 4-month-old son, Jack. He was glad to hear that Obama would not let his son play football and probably hopes other parents follow suit. He won't, though.

"If President Obama feels that way," Jim Harbaugh said, "then there will be a little bit less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older."

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