When President Obama earlier this year openly fretted that if he had a son he'd hesitate before letting him play football, it unleashed a new wave of concern about the sport's safety and worries that it is just too dangerous to play — at any level.
"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 told the New Republic.
But in one of the most exhaustive studies on football and other sport injuries, a new book timed for release with the beginning of the NFL season not only found that the sport is among the nation's safest activities, but it is good for young men, and requires a heightened fitness level that is helping to keep professional players alive longer than average males.
Going against the conventional wisdom that football is a killer sport, Daniel J. Flynn, author of "The War on Football: Saving America's Game," wrote: "Football is good for you. Video game anesthetization, iPods blasted to 11, and gummy bears for lunch aren't. Surely the president, who spent his teenage years in a light-hearted and light-headed marijuana-themed 'Choom Gang,' knows better than most that teenage boys face greater threats to their brain cells than sports."
His unusual book, published by Regnery and on sale August 19, uses statistics to charge that injuries in football are being hyped by equipment companies to sell more and a media that wants a concussion-free sport.
The result has been state and local lawmakers introducing legislation to restrict and even ban the game and NFL to add cumbersome padding to the 2013 season uniforms.
While he sympathizes with reports that some NFL players suffer late in life from hits they took on the field, Flynn found that football deaths are rare, and that only two occurred last year from on-field hits. Some others died of heat exhaustion and ailments Flynn blamed on obesity.
He provided statistics showing that baseball and several other activities are more dangerous, but don't receive the same heat from the press or politicians. For example, 42 skateboarders died in 2011, amusement parks and carnivals kill an average of four Americans a year, bicycling kills 700 a year, horse racing kills more than two jockeys a year, and mountain climbing takes the lives of 25 a year.
Flynn suggests that critics focus their attention elsewhere, such as on obesity, penning:
"Football, a magnet for oversized athletes, plays a constructive role in combating obesity. The fact that head injury deaths have declined dramatically, or that they pale in the number to obesity-related fatalities, doesn't register for those who have it out for football. To them, two deaths last season in what amounts to an amusement is an unacceptable price. And maybe it is. But if we ban football for two fatalities, how many more fat-kid fatalities will we have? how many other amusements will we ban? Skateboards? Carnival rides? Bicycles?"
He also pointed his pen at oft-repeated reports that football players live shorter lives. He quoted a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, hired by the NFL Players Association, which found that "NFL players live longer than American males outside of football and suffer from various life-threatening ailments at lower rates."
Another study he cited found that NFL players lived longer than Major League Baseball players.
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.