GIGOT: Is that fair though? I mean, is that a fair point in his defense?
FREEMAN: It is fair that certainly a lot of mistakes were already made, a lot of the bad bets were already made. Whether they could have made some different decisions starting in early 2008? Possibly. But I think the key issue for them is his job as secretary of treasury would be, now after Dodd/Frank, the 2010 law, would be basically being in charge of spotting risks in the financial marketplace. He is running something called the Financial Stability Oversight Council if he becomes treasury secretary. This is deeming certain companies systemically important, identifying risks of the financial system. Was he able to identify any risks at Citigroup?
GIGOT: Did he see the iceberg coming?
GIGOT: And why would he fine a unit if it was headed towards the rocks?
FREEMAN: Yes, so what is the answer? What he clueless? He had no idea of the risks they were running? Or is he going to say, no, I saw the risks. And if so, why didn't he say anything. I don't remember him being a big whistle-blower in 2008. I don't think anybody else does either. So there are difficult questions for him. And this was not his first job at Citi. In 2006, when he first started there, he ran their private wealth -- he was the chief operating officer at their wealth management division. And big questions there, too.
GIGOT: Because they had been sued for selling what are alleged to have been bad assets that they knew bad and that is a lawsuit going through the courts right now.
FREEMAN: Well, they have paid $85 million in settlements, an undisclosed number of other private settlements. They will be paying more. The question is, what did he think, were they mistreating customers, were they pushing people into risky mortgage and municipal bond investments without properly disclosing.
GIGOT: How big of an issue is this going to be in the confirmation?
FREEMAN: I think -- this is in question. I think it ought to be a big issue because he ostensibly was running, overseeing their legal affairs, which really relates directly to disclosure --
GIGOT: We have argued that you can't hold bankers responsible by themselves. The federal government had a big role to play in it.
FREEMAN: Right. What we said, look, there is greed on Wall Street. There was greed in 2008. There always has been. That is part of the story. It's not the whole story. There are a lot of regulator mistakes that got us here. But to say that someone shouldn't be prosecuted is different than saying he ought to be secretary of the treasury, he ought to have the most important job in international finance. And I don't --
GIGOT: And his experience and expertise ought to be challenged in a confirmation --
FREEMAN: I think it will be. Obviously, the Senate is focused on Chuck Hagel. Once they move on to Jack Lew, there could be some questions.
GIGOT: OK, James, thanks so much.
Still ahead on this Super Bowl weekend, President Obama says that although he is big fan, he would have to think twice before letting his son play football. A closer look at violence in the game and what can and should be done about it.
GIGOT: Well, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, President Obama is weighing in on the subject of violence in football. The president, father to two daughters, told the "News Republic" in an interview this week that, quote, "I'm a big football fan but, I have to tell you, if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I would let him play football."
We're back with Dan Henninger, Jason Riley and James Freeman.
James, was the president right here to maybe not let his son play?
FREEMAN: Well, I suppose you ought to think long and hard about anything your kids want to do. But I think something that ought to be injected in this debate is the idea of relative risks. Judging from his vacation photos, I think he likes to ride a bicycle. it kills more than 700 people a year. So if he is going to think long and hard -- and this would relate to his daughters as well.
GIGOT: But the issue is whether you want young kids with growing brains whacking each around in the head and undergoing concussion risks. Are those concussion risks especially severe, and severe enough that you would say, you know what, play something else?
FREEMAN: This is THE big question. We have seen a bunch of NFL players develop problems after playing, guys who played a long time in the league.
GIGOT: Suffered a lot of concussions.
FREEMAN: Right. And a brain condition, called CTE, which scientist are trying to get a handle on, figure out what the damage is. Then the question is, is this a real risk for young people? It may be. This ought to be studied. But when you look at the data in terms of college athletes, certainly football is a violent game, the injury rates are higher, but not all that much higher than soccer and field hockey, other fall sports, where kids get injured and they do get concussions. I think a little relative risk assessment is in order here.
RILEY: I think one question I have is how much Obama's comments is shared by the general public, particularly middle-class, upper middle class families. I think the research they have been looking at is a growing body. It is not conclusive. But it shows, from what I've read, that even blows that do not result in concussion, that do not show up in concussion data can cause serious brain trauma, can cause neurological disorders, CTE and so forth. And sometimes we watch these football games, and we watch the spectacular blows, the wide receiver running the cross pattern, where the corner back lines them up, or people returning kick-offs or punts, or a quarterback blind-sided.
RILEY: But it's really the linemen that these the studies show showing up with CTE that play after play are doing less violent hitting but constant hitting throughout the games and throughout their careers. It's showing up, their brains are starting to look like boxer's brains.
GIGOT: Dan, what do you think?
HENNINGER: I think the problem by and large lies with NFL and professional football. They are the guys that are trying to use their helmets spearing people and hitting one another as absolutely as hard as they can. It translates down to Pop Warner League and high school, where kids start using technique that has are absolutely the incorrect way to play football. The pros don't care. These guys are just killing one another.
GIGOT: In order to make millions of dollars a year, I mean, obviously --
RILEY: And Obama made that point. He's more worried about the college players.
GIGOT: Here's the thing, I played high school football and a little bit in college, some people say maybe I have some brain damage too.
FREEMAN: Yes, we --