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NFLPA Head Talks Football Safety; X Games Athlete in Critical Condition; Obama's Turn on Immigration Reform; Scouts Consider Allowing Gay Members; Campus Pride Suspends Chick-fil-A Protest

Aired January 29, 2013 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

Stories we're watching right now -- protecting players. The NFL and the union working together on a plan to fund research into health issues. We're talking with the NFL players association's executive director.

Plus, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy makes an unlikely new friend: the director of a gay rights organization protesting the company. Now the same organization is suspending its protests. We'll ask the director why.

Also, the governments say they're companies, but the days of excessive spending are still happening. Many CEOs are getting huge bonuses with the government's blessing.

Plus this: It costs a pretty penny to advertise during the Super Bowl. But are advertisers getting all the bang for their buck or are Super Bowl ads a giant waste of money? NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. Excitement is building with just five days to go until the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans now for the big game.

Enjoy the game in its present state because the game of football, it could change. It's possible. The NFL is dealing with serious issues of player safety, especially concussions.

Concern has reached all the way to the White House where President Obama told the "New Republic," 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 let him play football.

And 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 violence in some cases that may make it little less exciting."

Baltimore Ravens' player Ed Reed, he's known as one of the hardest hitters in the league. He has a son. He agreed with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ED REED, BALTIMORE RAVENS: I'm with Obama because I have a son. I'm not forcing football on my son. You know, if he want to play it, you know, that's what I would probably say to Obama was like, you know, if your son want to play it, how you feel about that then?

Do you let him play? You know, do you turn him away from it? You know, because -- you can't make decisions for him at the end of the day. All I can say is, "Son, I played it so you don't have to."


COSTELLO: Demaurice Smith, the NFL Players Association executive director joins us now for an exclusive interview. Good morning. Thank you so much for being here.


COSTELLO: You heard President Obama, Ed Reed, parents around the country thinking twice before letting their kids play football. I mean, how concerned are you?

SMITH: Well, you know, as a parent with two kids who play sports, I always want them to play in a sport that I know is going to be safe. And the reality of professional football is it does come with certain inherent risk.

One of the things that we wanted to do with this study, which is just one piece is to make sure that we dedicated money to make sure that players in the future will benefit from the research in both health, safety, and wellness.

COSTELLO: And you're going to -- is the union going to donate $100 million toward this study on football injuries?

SMITH: And this is something that I'm probably most proud of our players because almost two years ago in June and July while we were locked out by the NFL owners, the players nonetheless committed themselves to dedicate $100 million over the next ten years, which would have been $100 million that could have gone to salary and benefits. They had the vision nearly two years ago to dedicate this money to research for health, safeties, and wellness.

COSTELLO: Junior Seau's death, I mean, that had to hit you hard. Has his death because he was such a popular player kind of changed the course of conversation, made this real for fans, for players?

SMITH: Well, you know, before Junior's unfortunate death, we lost a good friend of mine, Dave Doerson. Long before that, Mike Webster from the Pittsburgh Steelers also died. I can't say that one tragedy led to this.

I think that what you have seen over the period of time is two things, one, science becoming better and helping our players, but most importantly, players making a decision that they want to be vitally involved in making the game safer. COSTELLO: When you have Ed Reed saying, you know, I'd think twice before letting my son play football, doesn't that speak to you that the game the change? That it's just a matter of time?

SMITH: You know, when it comes to health, safety, and wellness for the players, the game is an important piece, obviously, but it's not the only piece. Just this CBA, for example, we decreased hitting in training camps by half by eliminating two-a-day practices.

We're advocating for the league to accept the players' proposal of having a neutral sideline concussion expert on the field. At the same time, we're also asking the National Football League to stop fighting our players on their workers comp cases, which is the main way that our players get health care for the injuries they suffer at work. So what we believe in is a holistic approach to make it safer all the way around.

COSTELLO: But do you believe that the game itself should become less violent for the good of the players? Even though many don't want that?

SMITH: You know, I've been in this job for four years and had the pleasure of working with Ed Reed, who's a tremendous leader whether it's Jason Whitten or Tom Brady. The reality of football is there are certain risks inherent in football. And does it mean we can decrease those risks? Yes.

So the question of whether or not we make football less violent to me is not the right focus. The real question should be what are we willing to do as both the National Football League and players to decrease the risks that we know are inherent.

But most importantly to make sure that when players are hurt that they're taken care of by their employer. That is a substantial step that we still need to get to with the National Football League.

COSTELLO: Demaurice Smith, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you very much.

COSTELLO: Also this morning, new questions surrounding the adrenaline-fueled X-Games. Has the high-flying competition become too dangerous? The 25-year-old Caleb Moore who competes in snowmobile freestyle is in critical condition this morning after his 450-pound snowmobile tumbled over him in that violent crash.

The "Denver Post" just reporting, he has head and chest injuries. A staff writer who's covered the game extensively says the risks are increasing as the limits are constantly pushed.


JASON BLEVINS, STAFF WRITER, "DENVER POST" (via telephone): These are athletes that are, you know, at the top of their sports. Very -- pushing the envelope, expanding their horizons and showing what's possible. And with that -- with that real push and progression comes increased risk.

And you know, these -- I talk to these athletes all the time. And they speak very plainly that they know the risks, and they assume the risks and prepare themselves. They train. They work hard.

You know, they use a variety of tools to learn these tricks from foam pits and air bags to, you know, gym practice on trampolines. They work very hard to mitigate the risk, but the risks do obviously increase as you push the sport into new realms and new tricks.


COSTELLO: The "Denver Post" took an unscientific poll of its online readers. Here's how they weighed in, 35 percent said the games are now too dangerous, 42 percent said no, and 23 percent are not sure.

He's made it a key part of a second-term agenda. Today, President Obama will weigh in on the hot topic of immigration reform. At an appearance in Las Vegas, the president is expected to endorse a proposal laid out by a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called "Gang of Eight."

It offers a path to residency, even citizenship for millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally. It also calls for employment -- an employment verification system that prevents identity theft, and it would end hiring of unauthorized workers in the future.

My next guest will be in the audience when the president speaks. She is Greisa Martinez, the leader of "United We Dream," a group of -- a group dedicated to helping undocumented young people. She herself is undocumented and is currently a senior at Texas A&M University. Greisa, welcome.

GREISA MARTINEZ, MEMBER, "UNITED WE DREAM" (via telephone): Hi, Carol. Thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: Thanks for being with us. What do you want to hear from the president today?

MARTINEZ: You know, we're really excited to be able to have this conversation. I think what we want to hear out of the president is, you know, what it's going to look like for all 11 million.

Also, we want to see his leadership and inclusion of our LGBT families and what -- in a immigration reform bill. And to see what the path that he lays forward and where we're starting the conversation.

COSTELLO: And you have a lot personally riding on this. Your father was deported in 2006. Tell us about that.

MARTINEZ: So my father, his name is Reece, was a Baptist minister, small business owner. In the spring of 2007 was deported during my sophomore year at Texas A&M. You know, my younger sisters and I -- it was one of the toughest moments in our life. And he made the decision to make sure that our family continued and to live out the American dream. So currently my sister is a graduate, and we're still working toward, you know, fulfilling that dream that my parents came for and risked everything for me and my sisters to have. So it just tells you that, you know, one of the things I want to hear from the president is how we're going to address, how we're going to address the millions of separations of families because we know that's not an American value that families are separated every day. As we want to see how he will address that.

COSTELLO: It's probably unlikely even with these new proposals that your dad will be able to come back and become a citizen of the United States because he would have to go to the back of the line. But it is possible you might be able to become a U.S. citizen. How likely do you think it is, just talking realistically, that you will be able to stay in the United States and not be afraid?

MARTINEZ: I'm currently not afraid. I think part of our story as a dream movement that we're undocumented and unafraid. That's what I proclaim. I think a lot of it is what you mentioned. I don't know whether I'll be able to see my father as he passes away or if something were to happen to him.

I know that -- conversation that we started, the work that thousands of immigrants are doing on the ground is going to lead to a pathway to citizenship. We understand there's a lot of work ahead and that we're committed to that fight, we're committed to making that happen, for me to be able to hug my dad again.

COSTELLO: Greisa Martinez from the "United We Dream" group, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's head to Washington now where any minute now Senator John Kerry is expected to be confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the next U.S. secretary of state. The move clears the way for a vote by the full Senate which could happen as early as today. A special election to fill Jerry's Massachusetts Senate seat would be held in late June.

President Obama will have to find a new transportation secretary. The White House Says Ray Lahood will not stick around for another four years. Lahood is the latest cabinet member to announce their departure. At least five others have left or plan to do so including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Bailout bonuses that reach millions and millions of dollars, some of the companies save by your tax dollars are paying their CEOs big bucks bonuses. In 2012, the head of AIG was given $10.5 million.

At Ally Financial, the CEO took home $9.5 million. The head of General Motors was awarded $9 million. The government's top bailout watchdog says that is excessive. Alison Kosik joins us from the New York Stock Exchange with more. Good morning. ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. What the government's top bailout watchdog is pointing to is pointing to the Treasury Department, pointing its finger at the Treasury Department.

The special inspector for TARP, remember that, the troubled asset relief program. It says the government has failed to rein in the excessive spending at AIG, at GM and Ally Financial, now all three took big government bailouts during the financial crisis, but at the same time their CEOs are getting hefty bonuses.

Kristi Romero says the firms, quote, "continue to lack at an appreciation for their extraordinary situations and failed to view themselves through the lenses of companies substantially owned by the U.S. government."

Under a 2008 law that authorized the bailouts, the Treasury was supposed to oversee executive pay at the company that received its government money. Would executive pay be more closely aligned for employees of similar rank in their industry?

So let's say a CFO at G.M. should be paid a similar amount to a CFO at Chrysler. But surprise, Romero says that hasn't happened. Last year, treasury-approved pay packages of $3 million or more for half of the executives at these companies.

Listen to this -- of the almost 70 executives the government signed off on, all but one received $1 million or more. Both Ally and G.M., they say they're complying with all TARP restrictions.

AIG's bailout has been paid back. It's no longer under government supervision. There's another side to this. These pay packages seem huge, but these companies say they're necessary to retain top talent. Something that's crucial as the economy is still trying to navigate away from the recession, Carol, though I don't think that argument will fly.

COSTELLO: No. We hear that argument all the time. Usually people say, yes, whatever. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

One of the largest gay rights groups protesting Chick-fil-A says the food chain no longer funds the most divisive anti-gay groups. Now they're best buddies. We'll talk about that next.


COSTELLO: It's 17 minutes past the hour. It's time to check our top stories. Consumers aren't that optimistic about the economy. The consumer confidence index released a few minutes ago shows a sharp drop from last month. It now stands at 58.6 percent. That's down from nearly 67 percent in December. The steep drop, races all the gains made through 2012. An increase in the payroll tax seems to be one of the things that have dampened consumers' enthusiasm.

A 16-mile stretch of the Mississippi River remains closed near Vicksburg because of an oil spill. The Coast Guard says it has five contracted vessels helping with cleanup and skimming operations. Still unclear exactly how many gallons leaked after two barges struck a bridge on Sunday morning. The one that started leaking was carrying 80,000 gallons of oil.

The Boy Scouts of America may be closer to changing its long-standing policy barring openly gay members. It's expected to be up for discussion when the group's national board meets next month. The scouts' policy has been heavily criticized, but the leader of the Conservative Family Research Council says the scouts will be making a serious mistake by bowing to gay activists.

Chick-fil-A. Chick Fil-A has a brand new friend and ally -- Campus Pride. That is the same gay rights group that launched a campaign to boycott Chick-fil-A last year. Chick-fil-A's President, Dan Cathy, sparked national protests after he made it clear he was no fan of same-sex marriage.

Since then, Cathy has been developed a friendship with Campus Pride director Shane Windmeyer who says Chick-fil-A is no longer making donations to some anti-gay rights groups.

The director of Campus Pride, Shane Windmeyer, has now suspended his campaign against Chick-fil-A. He joins us now to talk about that. Welcome, Shane.

SHANE WINDMEYER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CAMPUS PRIDE: Thank you, Carol. It's good to be here.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for being here. So all is forgiven with Chick-fil-A?

WINDMEYER: Actually, no, Carol. Nothing's forgiven with Chick-fil-A. What we're trying to do is really better understand each other. And luckily through our campaign, we are able to sit down and have civil dialogue which sad she sometimes missing in this country right now.

So this relationship, this friendship with Dan has allowed us to hear each other. And you know, I've learned that they've actually stopped giving to the most divisive groups like the Family Research Council.

I mean, Tony Perkins and his rhetoric around how gay people are the pawns of the enemy, there's many Chick-fil-A customers and most of America who wouldn't agree with that.

COSTELLO: But Chick-fil-A still donates moneys to anti-gay marriage groups. Correct?

WINDMEYER: That is correct. And I think that that's an important distinction. This is a positive step forward. Our organization has never said go eat Chick-fil-A or that college campuses should have Chick-fil-A restaurants.

You know, that's a personal decision. And I received a lot of flack, as you can imagine, from people because I'm coming out as a friend of Dan Cathy, that suddenly that's a blessing. It's no such thing.

COSTELLO: They say he's playing you.

WINDMEYER: Well, I am hard to be played, Carol. At the end of the day, I think that in this country we don't sit down enough and be heard. And if sitting down with someone, calling someone a friend is being played, you know, I guess that's what people's viewpoints are.

But I'm glad to be able to sit down and show the country that you can have civil discourse. And Dan, you know, asks about my husband. He has referred me to see my husband as my -- referred to my husband as my husband. There's been movement there.

Relationships matter in this country. We need to realize that rhetoric doesn't matter, but this relationship with Dan I think is a perfect example of what's happening in our American families today.

COSTELLO: So he refers to your husband as your husband, yet he doesn't really believe that legally you should have any such thing. So is it your goal to convince Dan Cathy eventually that that's the way he should think?

WINDMEYER: You know, my goal in this has been to create an authentic relationship that's really turned into a friendship with the company, as well as with Dan Cathy. And I've been lucky that Dan also wants to have an authentic relationship with me as an individual, but also with our organization.

So this has never been about the views of Dan Cathy. This has always been about the anti-gay marriage funding which, as you mentioned, they haven't stopped funding all the groups. But what I wanted to come out and say is that, you know, I -- I have this relationship with Dan.

And I do know for a fact that they have stopped funding the more divisive groups like the Family Research Council, like, you know, exodus international and the Eagle Forum which are really out of kind of the mainstream thought around gay people.

COSTELLO: I guess some people may criticize that because Chick-fil-A actually donated relatively little money to those organizations, but donate much more money to, you know, I guess less extreme organizations.

WINDMEYER: You know, Fellowship of Christian Athletes is one of the organizations that they still are funding. And, you know, I grew up in high school, and I was a member of fellowship of Christian Athletes. The organization has a band very similar to the Boy Scouts -- has a ban very similar to the boy scouts.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, it's similar to them banning gay people and an organization like the Family Research Council that spews rhetoric. You know, it's a very challenging debate, and I think it's one where relationships matter. Will Chick-fil-A continue donating to anti-gay groups?

And in 2011, 990, yes, they will. Have they stopped defending the more divisive groups, yes? I think that's a positive step forward, and it's significant. I'm not saying it's over. Just because you're someone's friend doesn't mean you can't disagree with them. And you can't challenge them on who you are.

And you know Dan invited me as a guest to his home. He's invited me, as you know, to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. You know, this man as he would call it in his faith, you know, there's a blessing of growth. And as a country, we need to acknowledge and respect people of faith. I'm a person of faith. There are gay people of faith and I think that's been missing for -- from this discourse frankly.

COSTELLO: Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.

WINDMEYER: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question for you today. It's seems to pale in light of that conversation, doesn't it? It does. Obama skeet shooting: on target or telling?


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the stories of the day. The question this morning -- Obama skeet shooting: on target or telling? It's a silly argument, the president skeet shooting, whatever. It seems nothing is silly when it comes to debating gun control in America. It started in an interview with the "New Republican," Camp David we do skeet shooting all the time," President Obama said. The editor was stunned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew a little bit that he'd fired weapons on secret service spy ranges and things in the past. This idea of him going up to Camp David and skeet shooting regularly and enjoying it is a new side to the president that I -- I at least hadn't seen. I don't think a lot of others had either.


COSTELLO: That includes Republican Congresswoman Marcia Blackburn of Tennessee who says, why now, Mr. President?


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: If he is a skeet shooter, why this we not heard of this, why have we not seen photos? Why has he not referenced it at any point in time as we have this gun debate that is ongoing? You would have thought it would have been a point of reference. I tell you what I do think, I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I'll go skeet shooting with him. I bet I'll beat him.


COSTELLO: As to why there are no photos, White House Spokesman Jay Carney hedged.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is there a photograph of him doing it?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There may be, but I -- I haven't seen it.

BASH: Why haven't we heard about it before?


COSTELLO: Because when he goes to Camp David he goes to spend time with family and friends and relax. Not to produce photographs.

Again, whatever, still, why did the president feel the need to bring this up at all? If he wanted to win over gun rights advocates, skeet shooting isn't exactly on target, the NRA said, "The Second Amendment is not about shooting skeet, and it's not a tradition."

It's a fundamental right upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court." While Obama seemed to be reaching out however awkwardly to gun owners, the whole thing may have backfired. "Talk Back" question -- Obama skeet shooting: on target or telling?