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Obama talks economy, football in pre-Super Bowl interview

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun February 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama says the fourth-quarter economic dip was "self-inflicted"
  • "Washington cannot continually operate under a cloud of crisis," he tells CBS
  • In the pre-Super Bowl interview, Obama says he wants to make football safer

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama blamed the fiscal cliff standoff in Congress for the contraction in the U.S. economy at the end of 2012 and weighed in on the safety of football in a pre-Super Bowl interview Sunday.

During the roughly eight-minute live session with CBS host Scott Pelley, Obama said new concerns about long-term brain damage in football players "means the game is probably going to evolve a little bit."

"For those of us who like to see a big hit and enjoy the rock 'em, sock 'em elements of the game, we're probably going to be occasionally frustrated," the president said. But he added, "We want to make sure that after people have played the game, that they're going to be OK."

Obama spoke less than two hours before the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens played for the NFL title in New Orleans in the most-watched event in U.S. sports. Sunday's game comes as football is under new scrutiny, with more than 1,500 former players accusing the NFL in a lawsuit of hiding the dangers of concussions from them.

Another lawsuit was filed in January by the family of former linebacker Junior Seau, who argued his suicide in May was the result of a brain disease caused by violent hits he endured playing the game. Seau's brain was donated to science, and a study by the National Institutes of Health found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a neurodegenerative brain disease that can follow multiple hits to the head.

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Obama said professional players "are grown men," well-paid and informed about the risks. But for players in the "pipeline," from the Pop Warner leagues through college, "I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make the sport safer."

The interview came four days after government figures showed the U.S. economy shrank a tenth of a percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, the first dip in more than three years. The Commerce Department said a large cut in federal spending, primarily on defense, was one of the biggest drags on growth.

"It had to do with folks being worried about the possible impacts of the fiscal cliff and what goes on here in Washington," Obama said. "Washington cannot continually operate under a cloud of crisis. That freezes up consumers. It gets businesses worried. We can't afford these self-inflicted wounds."

Obama also defended his administration's decision to open positions in armed forces combat units to women and supported the Boy Scouts' move to end their national ban on homosexuals.

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"The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives, and I think nobody should be barred from that," he said. The White House said in 2012 that Obama -- who as president, serves as the honorary national president of the Boy Scouts of America -- disagreed with the organization's ban.

It's Obama's second CBS interview in a week. The president and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down for a joint Q&A with "60 Minutes" on January 27.

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