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updated 2/2/2014 12:04:49 PM ET 2014-02-02T17:04:49

DAVID GREGORY:

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And good Sunday morning. All eyes on New Jersey, of course. But it's not just today's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium that has people focused on the state. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, it could be a big moment for him, obviously, with the Super Bowl there. Instead, he's also in the fight of his political life.

He's got new charges that he's facing now, that he knew about those George Washington Bridge lane closures at the time they were happening. But there's actually been no evidence provided to back up those claims. So is this truly a bombshell or is it nothing?

How much fight does President Obama have left in his second term? Compared to last year, his State of the Union speech contained a less ambitious agenda. But he's still facing a lot of opposition, as well. So how much of his presidential power does he have to actually go it alone?

And on this Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest threat to the future of football: Why 40% of parents say they won't let their kids play, and why some NFL players, from Brett Favre to Joe Namath say they're having lifelong problems. Joining me now, the roundtable's here. Good to see everybody. Doris Kearns Goodwin is here, Robert Gibbs, Rich Lowry, as well, our Chuck Todd, and Gwen Ifill from PBS. Welcome to all of you. Chuck, the tabloid treatment of Christie over this weekend has been tough. Look at it on the screen. "Christie Knew." "You're lying, Gov."

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

Does it really add up? Or is this more hype than real?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you know, but Christie obviously believes it's more hype than real. You do have David Wildstein with his own motivations, legal bills. But this is sort of the vise that I think Chris Christie is in is that he's got three people that essentially were thrown under the bus in some form or another.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

And in Wildstein, Bridget Kelly, and Stepian, his long-time campaign guy. All of them, if forced to pick between their own survival-- if this becomes a game of survival--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--then that's where Christie's in trouble. That's what Wildstein's been hinting on. But, you know, this story is no longer about whether Chris Christie can survive to become a viable presidential candidate. This is about a story about whether Chris Christie can save his own governorship at this point.

DAVID GREGORY:

And it's interesting, Gwen Ifill--

CHUCK TODD:

I think we ought to stop even thinking about the presidential race with Christie.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before getting through this. Gwen, one of the things that they're doing in the governor's office is hitting Wildstein hard, right?

GWEN IFILL:

Hard.

DAVID GREGORY:

Really hard. I mean they're putting up five things you should know that includes, as a 16 year old kid, he sued over a local board election.

GWEN IFILL:

That did not strengthen my faith in their argument, the idea that you're going back to high school in order to make your case, that this isn't a good-- his big mistake in his two-hour press conference was attacking Wildstein based it on saying he was a loser in high school. And so now that's coming back up again?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

GWEN IFILL:

We've all been through high school. We all remember what those feelings were like. So that's not the strongest-- it seems like a distraction when the more serious question at hand is what he knew and what he was going to do about it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

GWEN IFILL:

And whether he was creating a culture in his office among the people who work for him who would do this even if he didn't know about it. So, you know, this is supposed to be his big weekend. He was supposed to be New Jersey, presiding over the Super Bowl that everybody thinks is in New York. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

That could be a whole discussion in and of itself.

(OVERTALK)

GWEN IFILL:

--discussion.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

GWEN IFILL:

And instead, he's back in the corner again.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Well, I want to get more comment on this. But let me bring in Kelly O'Donnell. She's up in New Jersey today. She's been closely following the bridge scandal. And I want to have you bring us up to date a little bit about what we're actually dealing with, who David Wildstein is. So what have you got, Kelly?

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Good morning, David. Well, for Governor Christie, this really is a multi-front media plan. As we've talked about, Governor Christie has been trying to visible with the Super Bowl related events. But his team had two responses to these latest claims. First, on Friday, a pretty standard, low-key defense. But by Saturday, this more personal attack on the former Port Authority appointee who has been making waves.

(TAKE PACKAGE)

(CHEERING)

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Despite being the host governor--

CHRIS CHRISTIE ON TAPE:

Good afternoon, everybody.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

New Jersey's Chris Christie did not appear to get the home-field advantage Saturday as noticeable boos-- (BOOS) came from a Super Bowl crowd in New York City's Time Square.

CHRIS CHRISTIE ON TAPE:

And we look forward to hosting everybody.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Late Saturday, NBC News obtained a Christie office memo being sent to the governor's supporters that aggressively pushes back against both The New York Times, which first reported the allegations made by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, and then takes on Wildstein's personal character, concluding that, quote, "David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein." A former Christie ally, Wildstein, who supervised the lane closures last fall and then took the fifth in January--

DAVID WILDSTEIN ON TAPE:

I respectfully assert my right to remain silent.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

--dangled hints that Christie may know more about the bridge traffic scandal.

CHRIS CHRISTIE ON TAPE:

I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution.

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Wildstein's attorney wrote, "Evidence exists tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly."

REPORTER ASKING WILDSTEIN ON TAPE:

Would you reconsider …

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Wildstein's central role in the scandal makes his claims intriguing. But he offers no specific evidence.

SHAWN BOBURG (REPORTER FOR THE RECORD, BERGEN COUNTY, NJ):

Well, David Wildstein claims the evidence exists. But what's left unanswered is what kind of evidence, who has that evidence, and does it say anything about whether Christie knew the motivation behind these lane closures?

(END PACKAGE)

KELLY O'DONNELL:

And the context of this letter's important, too. Wildstein's lawyer was not writing to the U.S. attorney, he was sending the letter to Wildstein's former employer, the Port Authority, and making the argument that that agency should reverse its decision and actually pay Wildstein's legal bills and indemnify him against lawsuits. And of course, like so many things in Jersey politics, this has become oh so personal. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. All right, Kelly, thank you so much. So Rich Lowry, look, Wildstein provided 900 pages of information and communications to the legislature. None of it mentioned that he didn't speak the whole truth about this. So what's the big thing here that could come out of this?

RICH LOWRY:

Well, the facts really matter. And if Christie wasn't telling the truth, he has left so many hostages to fortune here--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RICH LOWRY:

--the truth will come out. But just the turnabout in has fortunes is incredible. Because the whole strategy was to win a huge reelection and then brag about that all around the country and use that as a launching pad for his presidential campaign. Now he's having to send out press releases, as Gwen alluded to, basically accusing one of his former associates of sticking gum under his desk in middle (LAUGHTER) school to discredit him.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Robert, here's the other-- look, I mean the communication side of this, just so we understand what he's saying, he's saying there's evidence to suggest that Christie wasn't being truthful when he said, "I only found out about this after the fact, after the lanes were reopened." So he may have known about the closures while they were happening.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

So that's the contradi-- that still doesn't get us to whether he planned the thing.

ROBERT GIBBS:

But the big danger has always been, from the moment that Chris Christie uttered the words that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, and when he walked out from behind that podium after the two-hour press conference, he had entered into the record, basically, his testimony. If anyone could call into question the veracity of that testimony in the months ahead with lawyers and in investigations, this would crumble completely for Chris Christie.

And I agree with Chuck. The notion that we're talking about this as, "What is this going to do to his presidential campaign," the largest newspaper in the state says, "If this is true, he should resign or be impeached," I think the clock is ticking on whether he's the chair of the RGA. Why wouldn't they just get rid of this now? And whether or not, in a year, we'll still call him Governor Christie.

DAVID GREGORY:

Big leadership moment here. That's what you think about is leadership over time.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, it certainly was a bravura performance when he made that two-hour press conference. And I agree with you, he made it so convincing that he left himself little room. But it seems to me the shadow of the presidency only falls on a few people. And it fell on Mr. Christie after he did so well with Sandy, and after that big election. That was the time when he had to evolve into a different kind of leader.

If there had been hardball play to get him there, if he'd done petty payback things, you have to say, "I'm on a bigger stage now. I've got to change my way of being." Because I think what the whole thing calls into question, even if none of this gets any further than it is, is the culture that he created that allowed his aides to think, "I can do this thing. I can play without telling the guy." Either he didn't know, which says something bad, or if he did know, it says something far worse.

DAVID GREGORY:

So in a few minutes I'm actually going to speak to the man who's leading the bridge scandal investigation. I'll talk to him later from the New Jersey legislature. But now I want to switch gears, talk about President Obama and what he's calling his "year of action." He went on the road this week to make his case for the initiatives that he laid out in the State of the Union Speech.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

And the question I posed to Congress yesterday is whether folks in Washington are going to help or they're going to hinder the progress we've been making. Whether they're going to waste time creating new crises that slow down our economy, or they're going to spend time creating new jobs and new opportunities. And I don't know what their plans are, but I choose the year of action.

DAVID GREGORY:

Joining me now, the President's chief of Staff, Denis McDonough. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks for having me, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

There's going to be some action, you've got to be behind it. Here's my question. He's got more than 1,000 days left. And yet, to a lot of people, it seemed like a smaller State of the Union, that his agenda is smaller, a shrinking presidency. Last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change, remaking the health care system. Has he gone small?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, I'll tell you, if you think about the things that he laid out on the table this week, $10.10 an hour minimum wage, that's not going to be small for the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from that. When you think about long-term unemployment, the president bringing in 300 of the country's biggest employers to say to them, "Hey, let's resolve this issue that's really dogging our economy." And when those guys get a fair shot at a job and, in fact, a new job at some point, that's not going to be small to them.

Later this week, you'll hear the president talk about Connect Ed. This is an opportunity where several private American companies are going to commit over a half billion dollars to ensure that our schools across the country have the kind of technology so that our kids can compete in this economy. This builds on a story in The Times today. FCC says it's going to wire 15,000 schools, get 20 million kids online in the kind of learning, not the way you and I grew up, David, which is you had a computer science lab where you went to once a day, they sit at their tables all day with laptops, with tablets. That's the kind of education we want our kids to have.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm not saying any of these initiatives are unimportant. But this is a president who had big ambition. After a very tough year, do concede that he looks at Washington and says, "Maybe I have to be a little less ambitious about what we can actually achieve here?"

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

No, I don't. Here is what I concede. I concede that the president doesn't spend a lot of time looking at Washington. What the president does is spend a lot of time looking at what families across the country want. They want clear, discernible, concrete actions that he can take so that he can move this thing forward, not wait for Congress, which you've said many times on this show. And in fact, during the course of this week, as you commented about the speech, is a Congress that, frankly, has just not lived up to its past experience and, in fact, one that's been quite slow.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. The issue of the economy is a big one. Do you ever wonder why the president doesn't get more credit for an economy that is rebounding? What's the disconnect here?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I don't spend a lot of time wondering about credit for the president. He doesn't. I don't spend a lot of time wondering about anything other than how do we make sure that people who want a fair shake, want to restore the fundamental premise of this economy in this country, which is you play by the rules, you'll work hard, you get a fair shot, and you're going to get a chance to get ahead. We've got to restore that. That's what I spend my time worrying about.

DAVID GREGORY:

Here's a few newsy items. One has to do with the Keystone Pipeline, right?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:

The ability to move all of that oil down through the middle of the country. Republicans have been calling for this. They say it's big for jobs. There's been a report now from the State Department saying that there's no real impact on the climate. So is this thing ready to be green-lighted by the president? What would hold him back from saying, "Yes, the Keystone Pipeline should be built, should go forward?"

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

He laid out his view on this last summer, which is that his view is that if this is to go forward, it should not significantly exacerbate the climate crisis in this country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Didn't the State--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--Department answer that and said it won't?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

The Friday Report is an important input into that process. We'll hear from other cabinet secretaries. But just take a step back and think about this for a second, David. This year, for the last three months of last year, October, November, December, we produced more oil than we imported for the first time since '95.

DAVID GREGORY:

I get that. Hold it, but you didn't answer my question.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

But listen to another thing. This morning, in The New York Times, terrible drought in the west, including in California, as a result of climate change. So we're going to obviously resolve the Keystone question. But that's one in a much bigger issue--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Fair enough. But what I'm focused on, and so just indulge me, what would stop him from saying yes at this point, given his own State Department saying there's not a big impact on the climate from doing this?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

He's been very clear that he's going to insulate this process from politics. Washington loves the politics.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I didn't ask about politics. You've got a State Department study.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

And we have one department with a study. Now we have other expert agencies, the E.P.A., and many others, who have an opportunity-- the Energy Department, an opportunity to look at this and make their determinations. The president wants to protect their ability to do that, make this decision based on the best analysis and most sound science.

DAVID GREGORY:

Where is the sweet spot on immigration? Do you think you have a deal that can actually provide a pathway to legal status? And if it falls short of citizenship, could the president live with that?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

President's principles on immigration have been out there now for some time. The bottom line here is he does not want to see an America where we have two permanent classes. That is to say, citizens and non-citizens, as we proceed. That's his principle. Nevertheless, the principles that were laid out by the Republican leadership towards the end of last week, we think that's a pretty good step, pretty good progress in this debate, coming from where they were to where they are now.

Our job is to step back, let this debate happen in the House. And we'll obviously continue to press for our principles. The House Democrats will, as well. And we feel pretty good that we'll get a bill done this year.

DAVID GREGORY:

You assume Obamacare is here to stay. What's one thing the president could live with if Republicans said, "Hey, here's a change we want to make on this?"

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, I wish they were talking about, "Hey, here's one reasonable change we could make." But their position is fundamentally, "Let's repeal this." We saw a bill introduced earlier this week by several Republicans in the Senate, all great people, including Doc Coburn, who knows something about health care. You know what the first provision of that bill was? Repeal Obamacare, repeal the Affordable Care Act. Well, if that's what they want to do, we're happy to--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But Harry Reid said there are substantive changes you could make.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

We're happy to--

DAVID GREGORY:

Give me an example of--

(OVERTALK)

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

We're happy to look at all sorts of changes to make this better. And we're trying to meet with Republicans and Democrats to do just that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is the health care law as strong as it could be?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

No law is ever as strong as it could be right out of the block. And what you've seen when you have had, historically, big changes in social policy like this is Congress comes along and tinkers with it, fixes it, identifies problems. We had a very interesting situation earlier this week where a person called her Congressman asking for help on the law. The Congressman didn't really decide to help, to try to help use the marketplaces, use technology, to find a cheaper, more affordable, quality health care plan. In fact, they just let that person toil under the plan they had developed. And that's not the way we should work. We should take the law, improve it where we can, help constituents where we can to get quality, affordable health care.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you persuaded, is the president persuaded, that the Olympic Games will be safe?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

You know, we're following this very, very closely, as you might suspect. We're in close touch with the Russians. But as we get new information, we're sharing it--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there anything that-- any information you've got that disturbs the president?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, we're always looking for more information. We've seen information that-- and you're going to see different threat streams at different times. So we're going to follow this closely. When we have new information, we'll share it. In the meantime, we ask American people to go to the State Department website, check in with the State Department when they travel, and we'll make sure that we share information when we get it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is the president an asset or liability to Democrats in this campaign year?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, look. The president is an asset to Democrats, the president is an asset, using the great power in this office. As you'll see later this week, when he talks about this opportunity to wire schools, you know, 15,000 of them, 20 million students getting access.

DAVID GREGORY:

So it'd be a mistake if Democrats don't want the president to campaign with them?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, look. I'll leave it to Democrats to make their decision on how they want to run their campaigns. They're expert at that. They're very good at that. Here's what we're good at: Focusing on the economy, getting this kind of clear, attainable goals laid out as the president put them in the speech the other night. That's what we're focused on, an economy that works for us.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, Speaker Boehner told some of us this week that he really wants to see the Republican Party as a party of ideas, of alternative ideas. Is that what the party is now?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

The Republican Party?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, I'll let them characterize themselves. But I saw that they introduced something called The Stop Act this week. If there was ever a fitting bill for the House Republicans to introduce after the steps that they've taken over the last several years, surely The Stop Act is one.

DAVID GREGORY:

Quickly, you're a football player?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I am.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're thinking about the--

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Or I was.

DAVID GREGORY:

--future of the game here. Would you let your sons play?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

This is a subject that my wife and I talk about quite a bit. So they're young guys now. We'll see what happens. They're great soccer players, great swimmers. I'm quite proud of them.

DAVID GREGORY:

You have some doubts, though, about whether it's safe enough for them to play?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, look. I'll tell you, you look at the science, and you look at all the things that we see out there, and these are tough questions. I know families are struggling with them across the country. I will say one thing I'm quite proud of. A lot of the science we know about on this, David, came from the Department of the Army.

We've spent a lot of money, billions of dollars over the course of the last ten years, looking at the impact of concussive events on our troopers, on our soldiers and their families. That's important. That's a good addition to the national interests. And we're thankful for the Army for doing that.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Broncos or Seahawks?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I like the Broncos.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Denis McDonough, thanks so much for your time.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Appreciate it, as always. Joining me now is Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina. This is his first Sunday show interview since being sworn in as Senator in January of 2013. He's also one of two African-American Senators, the other, Democrat Cory Booker from New Jersey. Senator, welcome.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Good morning, David. Thanks for having me on your show.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to begin there with some controversy about you as an African-American Senator from South Carolina. You had to deal with some comments from the head of the N.A.A.C.P. in North Carolina. He said the following: "A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy. The extreme right wing down here in South Carolina finds a black guy to be Senator and claims he's the first black Senator since reconstruction. Then he goes to Washington D.C. and articulates the agenda for The Tea Party." You had to be pretty upset about that. What do you think of it?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Well, you just can't really respond to someone who's never taken the time to get to know you. So when he's talking about me, he wasn't there when I was growing up in a single-parent household, struggling through high school. He wasn't there when I started my business and I was working 85 hours a week. He wasn't there when I was running for Congress against long odds. So for him to have comments about me, I don't really get it, number one.

Number two, when you look at my agenda, the opportunity agenda, you think about what I'm focused on. I'm focused on something called The Choice Act. We're creating hope and opportunities for individuals and communities through education. I'm not sure what part of that agenda he doesn't like.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Perhaps he doesn't like the fact that we're focusing on kids with special needs and giving them more flexibility so that they can find the education that's best for them. Maybe he doesn't like my Skills Act that says that there are four million jobs today that go unfilled. Here's an opportunity for us to bring more skills to the average person so that they can have not a debate about making it, but having a debate about real opportunity and real prosperity. Or maybe he doesn't like the fact that I believe that we can create hope and opportunities in our inner cities by making them centers of excellence and an engine of economic activity--

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you this.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

--bursting for those kids who grew up in ways that I did.

DAVID GREGORY:

Colin Powell, on this program some time ago, said there was a dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party. Do you believe that's the case?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

I don't. I'll tell you what. The G.O.P. really has become the Great Opportunity Party. I look at how I became a Republican and the messages that I heard and received very early on as a kid running for County Council in my 20s. One of the things that changed my life was meeting a mentor, a conservative Republican at the time. I didn't know, didn't care, whether he was Republican or Democrat.

But he took the time, over four years, to start talking to me about there's a way out of poverty that does not include athletics or entertainment, that you have an opportunity, through thinking, through business ownership. Having a job is a good thing. But if you create jobs, you will be better, and your community gets better.

And so the first brush I had with politics as a kid at 16 years old, 15 years old, was a conservative guy who thought that the future could be very bright for a kid in a single-parent household if he had the right tools, the right equipment. And he didn't convince me on one side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle, he convinced me to look in a mirror and see the best and brightest future that I could create for myself.

DAVID GREGORY:

One of the issues is that the Republican Party does appear divided. You're conservative, affiliated with The Tea Party. Speaker Boehner has said this week that he thinks the party should stop being the party of opposition, it should really be a party of ideas. And here, you had the President's State of the Union. And four different responses from the Republicans about the State of the Union. Is that division, or is that unity on the Republican side?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Well David, so often, people look at the Republican Party and say that we're a monolith party, that we don't have multiple voices with different perspectives on the issues. The fact of the matter is what you saw after the State of the Union is that there are many people in our party that are able to voice their concerns.

The reason why the party continues to grow is because we like disparity, we like the diversity of ideas. And when we have that diversity of ideas, it helps us to build the best party for the future. And certainly I'm a part of the conservative aspect part of the party. And we have found very great success by partnering with folks who make our party better. So at the end of the day, what America needs is a party that is as diverse as the Republican Party. That is why the great opportunities for our future comes out of the GOP.

DAVID GREGORY:

So agenda items here after the State of the Union. Is Obamacare here to stay?

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Well, that's a great question. Certainly I voted at least three or four dozen times to eliminate Obamacare. And I've had no success. One of the things I hope we would have on the conversation about Obamacare is we could look at a couple facets of the bill and find a way to restore hope and opportunity.

If we think about the decimation of the 40-hour work week as a part of Obamacare, I took a bus ride throughout the city, by cities in South Carolina, to figure out what real people were saying in their environments. And what I learned was that too many people are stuck now working 30 hours a week because Obamacare eliminates a 40-hour work week. If we had an opportunity to eliminate that aspect of Obamacare, I think we could find more money in the take-home paychecks of many Americans.

Another aspect of Obamacare that we should address very quickly is the medical device tax. Here's another $29 billion leaving the pockets of small business owners, which makes it more difficult to create jobs. As a small business owner myself, here's what you cannot keep asking us to do: Pay higher taxes, as we did January of last year, $630 billion of higher taxes, more regulations. Obamacare takes another $800 billion out of the pockets of small business owners through higher taxes and more revenues.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

And hire more people. We can't do all three. We can do two of the three. I'd like to see more jobs created in the private sector.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We're going to leave it there for now. We're out of time. Senator Scott, thanks so much for being here. I appreciate your time.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

And coming up here, can the president keep his own party in line? I'm going to ask our roundtable that question. But Jay Leno had a solution if they can't stay in line after the President's State of the Union speech.

JAY LENO ON TAPE:

This was a very important speech for the president tonight. And he gave it at a time when he's losing support from his own party. In fact, Congressional Democrats warned tonight, if they didn't applaud the President's speech, he would go out and campaign for them. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Plus some big developments in another upcoming crucial decision for President Obama. Why the solution to the Keystone Pipeline is going to be a battle to the bitter end. And more on the Christie bridge scandal. As new charges fly, I'll speak to the man leading the investigation. And on this Super Bowl Sunday, we'll talk about the future of the game. Is safety an issue that makes the future less certain? It's all coming up this morning on Meet the Press.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Roundtable is back. With me here, Chuck Todd, Gwen Ifill, Rich Lowry, Robert Gibbs and Doris Kearns Goodwin. And by the way, it's Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow this morning. And I guess that means Bill Murray makes another movie? (LAUGHTER) What does that mean exactly? No, it means more winter. More winter's here. It's been very cold.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

It means bad things.

DAVID GREGORY:

That means bad things. Poor Punxsutawney. All right. Well, we'll talk more weather later, I guess. Doris Kearns Goodwin, we talk about the power of the presidency. You think so much about this. 1,000 days left for President Obama. And here was a headline we looked at back in 2009 at the inauguration. "Historians say he," meaning Obama, "could redefine the presidency." And with no disrespect to this policy, here's Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, talking about, you know, broadband connection and getting more kids connected. Is that what you envisioned?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, you know, the interesting thing when you think about 1,000 days, some people might think that seems short. That was the entire span of JFK's presidency. And why is he remembered, in part, not just for the Cuban Missile Crisis, he set things in motion for the future: civil rights, that LBJ was able to get through, Medicare, LBJ was able to get through.

And so I think what Obama's saying is, in these next thousand days, through executive orders, and there's a triumphant history of executive orders, Harry Truman's desegregation of the Army was an executive order. JFK and LBJ did discrimination ending in federal hiring and in federal contractors. There's been some bad executive orders. I mean FDR's presidency is forever scarred by the executive order incarcerating the Japanese Americans.

But what he was saying in that State of the Union is, "I want to go along with you. But if I can't, speak softly, carry a big stick. There's my big stick." But I think, more importantly, what he's saying is that, "My presidency will be remembered, in part, for what I began." Not just the health care. He accentuated gay rights in an inaugural speech. We're getting energy independence. He said we shouldn't be on a war footing forever. He ended two wars. These things may take a while to get into history. But if he set things in motion that show a forward movement in social justice and defining inequality as the issue of our generation, then he will be remembered.

DAVID GREGORY:

How do we see it, Rich?

RICH LOWRY:

I thought the State of the Union was a banal speech in the service of picayune agenda. And Bill Clinton played small ball. But he played small ball with real strategy in mind as part of a faint to a center, part of an effort to associate him with middle class values. This, to me, feels different. It feels much more like exhaustion. And Doris Kearns Goodwin can cite all these historic executive orders over the decades. None of the things they're talking about in the White House are anything like that.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I would say it's a nod to the reality. That this term is not going to finish with some flourish of legislative accomplishment, as we saw in 2009 and 2010. The White House had an unsteady and unfocused year, and needs to give the American people confidence that they have an agenda that speaks to them and they can get it done. And I think the speech went a good ways towards laying that out. Now the impetus is also on the Republicans to be part of that change, to be part--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, that is a change.

ROBERT GIBBS:

At some point in 2015 and 2016, we're going to have a race to be the next president. And if the Republicans aren't prepared to appear to the American people like they are a governing party--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, and--

SENATOR TIM SCOTT:

--able to do that in the country, they won't be elected.

DAVID GREGORY:

And John Boehner's concerned about that, Gwen. I mean he is saying, "Look, we've got to start being a party of real ideas and not just go through the meat grinder of opposing the president all the time."

GWEN IFILL:

It is interesting, because people like Tim Scott like to oppose the president.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

GWEN IFILL:

That's kind of what the whole idea is. But listening to Denis McDonough, which I found-- he said two interesting things to me about two issues which are big issues which the president can do something about. One is immigration. And he basically said, "We're stepping back, we're getting out of the way. We led that parade. It didn't work out so well. We're out of this. House Republicans, you figure it out. And if something good happens, we get the credit if nothing happens."

The other is the Keystone Pipeline. Was interesting to hear the president's chief of staff say, "Well, we'll see what other cabinet members say," when, in fact, the reality is that this decision is falling, is putting John Kerry between the rock and the hard place, long-time climate change advocate, now in the position of trying to make a decision which will anger people on the left who think that this is a major environmental hazard, and will anger people on the right. In fact, some Democrats, who are like Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

GWEN IFILL:

--who are running for reelection in oil-rich states, who won't be happy if he doesn't approve it.

DAVID GREGORY:

If he doesn't do it.

GWEN IFILL:

So these are big issues, which the president has to do and it has nothing to do, almost nothing to do, with Congress.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Aren't progress-- I mean I know the left can be upset with the president. But there's a real opening to say to Republicans, "Hey, you say this is a priority? Well, I studied it, and I think it's a priority, too. We'll go ahead and do it."

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I-- you know--

DAVID GREGORY:

It could be a big moment for him.

CHUCK TODD:

It could be. I was surprised. You do get a sense that the president doesn't want--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--did not like the statement that he got out of state. Because now they're emphasizing, the White House is emphasizing, "Well, other agencies have to weigh in." So it feels as if a little bit of--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

Well, for a month, they've been saying it's all about the State Department.

CHUCK TODD:

It's all about the State Department thing. So it does feel like as if, politically, they're in a vise. Look, the politics of this, with Arkansas, let's not forget this, where the pipeline might be going through--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--Mark Pryor, Democratic Senator. So, you know, at some point you do figure the politics is going to sort of impact where the president comes down here. But on the big picture legacy thing, you know, the other part that the president was elected on was changing politics as we know it in this town. And that's what sort of has stunned from the David Remnick interview to the State of the Union itself, which all paints a picture of, you know what? He's resigned to the constraints of the office and the constraints of the politics of this town. He's given up on trying to break the polarization addiction that this town has. And some will say he added to it. But he's given that up. And to me, that's going to be something that I think historians are going to be writing about as the great disappointment of the Obama era.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But I think historians are going to say that the structural problems with political culture preceded him.

CHUCK TODD:

No doubt.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And that it's so deep in the system, they have to do with districting, they have to do--

CHUCK TODD:

But did he try--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

--with the poison of money in the system.

CHUCK TODD:

But is he trying to change that?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Of course he came in hoping to do that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

But did he do it? I mean did he attempt it? My sense is I don't feel like, in the last thousand days, he's even going to attempt it.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And so much of this debate, too, is does this fever only break when we get to 2016, as if that's the--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

That's what we said in '08.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But we've talked about Christie in 2016. Hillary Clinton still such a focus in 2016. Polling came out, big surprise here, from The Washington Post, ABC News, that Hillary Clinton is trouncing any opponent she might have in the party, Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren. But very interesting last week here with Rand Paul really amping up, kind of, the Republican response, and raising Bill Clinton, raising Monica Lewinsky.

Maureen Dowd writes in her column this morning in The Times that he had something of a point. Here's a portion of what Dowd wrote this morning. "It's not so simple to cast Hillary as a victim. She was also part of the damage control team to vouch for her husband and undermine his mistress. White House aides and other Democrats spread the word that Monica was a troubled young woman with stalker tendencies.

"Sidney Blumenthal, senior White House advisor, later testified that Hillary told him that she was distressed that the president was being attacked, in her view, for political motives for his ministry of a troubled person." Is this Groundhog Day in politics, too?

(OVERTALK)

GWEN IFILL:

That one doesn't bring back memories.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Where was David Wildstein when all this was happening? (LAUGHTER)

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

In high school!

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Is this deft on the part of Republicans to say that, "We're going to bring this up in the context of the war on women," or people are just going to say--

(OVERTALK)

GWEN IFILL:

Watching that last week, I really had the feeling, David, that he was riffing, that this was just something that occurred to him as he was defending his wife--

(OVERTALK)

GWEN IFILL:

--who had raised this question. And the people who lived through this, for whom this was an important part of their political life and a formative issue, will be happy to write about it again. But as we spend all of our time obsessing about the Clintons, again, and about Hillary Clinton again, I think there's a lot less attention being spent, aside from Chris Christie, on who the Republican nominee's going to be. You know, there's got to be a Republican nominee. And they don't know at all.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

GWEN IFILL:

Is it just me?

CHUCK TODD:

Is that so bad, though?

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Because they do-- I mean Hillary Clinton, in a way, is waiting in the wings that maybe no Republican could be, right, being out of power that--

RICH LOWRY:

Well, I mean she's been an overwhelming front-runner before. You know, and that didn't work out very well last time. Maybe it works out this time. But I think you're right, Rand Paul, that was just a riff. He was being asked about, you know, his wife's comments. And I get the sense the Republicans don't--

DAVID GREGORY:

Guys, for a riff, that was pretty--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I mean that was pretty well planned.

RICH LOWRY:

Republicans are not sitting around in back rooms figuring out how to bring up the '90s again. I don't think they fear Hillary Clinton. Look, it's a long way off to 2016.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RICH LOWRY:

But it's probably not going to be a status quo election. And is she really going to be able to brand herself as hope and change 2.0? I really doubt it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

ROBERT GIBBS:

But the backdrop of these comments, and the backdrop of the State of the Union are that the American people want to see some positive action from this time.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

ROBERT GIBBS:

--everybody. And that's why--

DAVID GREGORY:

But this is Barbara Bush's point--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

If it's Clinton-Bush again, how are you going forward, right? (CHUCKLE)

ROBERT GIBBS:

Can I just say this? You know, watching some of the developments around Hillary Clinton, you know, I hope the message that they got from '07 and '08 was that we didn't do inevitability inevitably enough.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Okay? (LAUGHTER) It is--

GWEN IFILL:

That's pretty good.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

No, no, he's just riffing. He's just riffing. (LAUGHTER)

(OVERTALK)

ROBERT GIBBS:

What I mean by that is Democrats and Americans want to see not that you can get a super PAC--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ROBERT GIBBS:

--to align with you, and not that you can get big donors aligned with you, but do you have an American vision? Do you have a vision for how America fits into the world and what the role we want to see ourselves play--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, all right.

ROBERT GIBBS:

--at home and abroad? And I think that's the real onus on her.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we're going to take a break here. I've got an interesting conversation about the future of football coming up that I'm going to save some time for. Coming up next here, the investigation into the bridge scandal. Will new charges by a one-time close Christie ally by a game-changer. I'm going to speak with the man leading the investigation, and the threats to the future of America's most popular sport on this Super Bowl Sunday. That's coming up.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

A lot more to get to as we continue here on this Super Bowl Sunday. Are head injuries threatening the future of football, America's most popular sport? That conversation next.

***Commercial Break***

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (ON TAPE):

I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution. And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. That, of course, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie denying that he had anything to do with the lane closures of the George Washington Bridge. The man leading the investigation into the bridge scandal is here with me once again now, Assemblyman John Wisniewski. Thanks for being here. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

So now you have David Wildstein, as we have been talking about this morning, saying that evidence exists that Christie is not telling the whole truth. What do we actually have here?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Well, that's the question. We don't really know what the evidence is. He submitted over 900 pages of documents in response to the subpoena. Apparently what he's talking about must be something other than what he submitted.

DAVID GREGORY:

And let me stop you there.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

900 pages, nothing implicates Christie, is that right?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Nothing that says the governor knew contemporaneously, which is the allegation he's making now.

DAVID GREGORY:

So if he had this, why didn't he give it to you?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Well, that's a great question.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

We don't have that answer.

DAVID GREGORY:

So doesn't that undermine his credibility?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Well--

DAVID GREGORY:

As the investigator?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

It really raises questions about-- I mean it's curious--

DAVID GREGORY:

This guy wants immunity.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

He wants his legal bills being paid. And he's raising a charge that you really shouldn't have known, if he turned over 900 pages of information.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Well, the question is it's-- the use of the words "evidence exists," as opposed to saying, "I have documents," or, "I have an e-mail," it's a curious choice of words. Which maybe he knows somebody else that has information. Maybe this is a conversation he had. Maybe this is something else that is not within the scope of the subpoena the committee issued. So it raises questions about what does he have and why doesn't the committee have it?

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you have any reason not to believe Chris Christie and what he said publicly?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

I have a lot of questions about what the governor said, and I have a lot of questions about what Mr. Wildstein is saying. And the only way we can answer those questions is to get more information and more documents.

DAVID GREGORY:

So to that point, are you getting more information as early as tomorrow?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

As early as tomorrow, we hope to be starting to get responses to the subpoenas. I mean some attorneys have asked for some leeway in terms of the production dates. And we've granted some--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And what about the U.S. Attorney? Look, there's a criminal probe, right, by the U.S. attorney in this district, Paul Fishman.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is he going to shut down what you do so he can do what he does?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

No. Our counsel, Reid Schar, has met with the U.S. attorney. And they've had a conversation. And he's very comfortable, our attorney is very comfortable that this investigation can proceed on a parallel track.

DAVID GREGORY:

What's the endgame here? And I ask that because you've talked about some of it. And I've made this point clear before. You were the state Democratic chairman, okay? You are a Democrat who actually was responsible for the political arm in the state. You've been asked about what crime might be involved here. Back in January, you said this on NBC Nightly News. Let me play it on the screen.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Sure.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (ON TAPE):

Using the George Washington Bridge, a public resource, to exact a political vendetta is a crime. Having people use their official position to have a political gain is a crime. And so if those tie back into the governor in any way, it clearly becomes an impeachable offense.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what is the crime that is an impeachable offense?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Well, the question is did the governor commit one of these acts? Is the governor responsible for this? We don't have any proof right now that the governor said, "Go and close the lanes." We know that somebody who was in his office, Bridget Kelly, ordered the lane closures. And so the hypothetical was asked.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

You know, "Is this a crime?" Well, using a public resource for a political purpose--

DAVID GREGORY:

But let's be clear. People are going to come forward. People who want immunity are going to turn on the governor. This is how this works.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Sure.

DAVID GREGORY:

When you're a potential target, right?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Sure.

DAVID GREGORY:

You turn on the governor. But you're making it very clear that the bar is high. You need very clear proof that the president-- rather, that the governor ordered this, is that right?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Oh, absolutely. We don't have any proof. We need more proof. And remember, we're a legislative inquiry. We're trying to change the way the Port Authority operates. Our endgame here is not any law enforcement action. Our endgame here is to change the culture of the Port Authority to make this agency more accountable, more transparent, which it's not right now.

DAVID GREGORY:

You're not after Governor Christie?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

That's not our goal. Our goal is to fix the Port Authority.

DAVID GREGORY:

Would you like to see him stay in office?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

I think that's up to the people of the state of New Jersey as to whether he continues or whether he is going to-- it's up to him.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you have a responsible, as a Democrat, to seek more Republican voices to stand next to you to say, "Let's be truly bipartisan about this, and let's make it very clear that all the shots that might be taken at the governor only are valid if they can establish that he ordered this?" Otherwise, this thing can grind on and kind of--

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

David.

DAVID GREGORY:

--eat away at him politically.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

But this isn't a probe about the governor. Let's make clear, this is not a probe about Chris Christie.

DAVID GREGORY:

But wait a second. But if you're going to-- if he is in trouble, it's absolutely about the governor. Because you just told me he would--

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

But we don't know--

DAVID GREGORY:

You would have to prove that he ordered it. So it's everything about the governor.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

No, this is-- first of all, let's follow the steps where they led us. They led us to the bridge, to the governor's office. Now we're in the governor's office. Who told Bridget Kelly to close the lanes? Under what authority? We don't know. That's what we have to find out. I mean the bar has been set because the governor has certain ambitions and people are talking about him in a national context.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

But the fact of the matter remains is we want to get answers about how this could happen.

DAVID GREGORY:

And you've scoured e-mail, you've scoured text messaging, you've looked at a lot of the communication within this administration already, haven't you?

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

We've looked at all of the documents we've gotten from Wildstein, Baroni. We haven't gotten responses back from the governor's office. We haven't gotten responses back from any of the other individuals subpoenaed. So we don't know what that will lead us to.

DAVID GREGORY:

But nothing yet implicates the governor.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

Nothing yet implicates the governor directly.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We'll be keeping up with this. Thank you so much for your time.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI:

David, thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Up next here, with everybody talking about football on this Super Bowl Sunday, I've got a different question. What is the future of the game, given the concerns about concussions and player safety? We're going to discuss it next with NFL legend Tony Dungy and the reporter who's been covering the issue from the very start. That's coming up next.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Coming up, we're all talking about football today. And my question here about the most popular sport in America is what is the future, given the health concerns, concussions, the future of the game, a special discussion coming up next.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

You're looking live, MetLife Stadium in The Meadowlands in New Jersey as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks get ready to play Super Bowl XLVIII. Everybody's talking about football on the game's biggest day of the year. But the less popular question is whether the future of football is in doubt because of the growing number of concussions and lasting head injuries to the players.

To help me go deeper on this issue, I'm joined now by Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. He's a reporter who has covered the concussion story from the very start. Also here with me, NBC Sports analyst, the terrific Tony Dungy. He was, of course, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts the last time Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl. Welcome to you both. I'm very glad to have you here.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to make a disclosure before we start our discussion. My wife, Beth, is an attorney. She represents the NFL. She was part of the legal team that negotiated this agreement between the NFL and the players over concussions. So with that out of the way, let me talk about that very settlement.

Let me put it up on the screen, what it represents. It is a concussion settlement worth $765 million, covering currently retired players for conditions that develop over the next 65 years. Alan, look. A lot of the commentary around this is that this was a great deal for the NFL. And now, it risks being unraveled by the judge who may conclude there's simply not enough money here to pay for all the damage that's been done.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

Well, it's a question, really, of is it enough morally? Should these men be given more money because of the injuries they sustained? But the way I looked at it and The Times looked at it the day is, is it enough arithmetically? You're promising an unknown number of players, $300,000, $500,000, sometimes up to $4-5 million for their developing conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's, things like that.

But you just don't know how many of the 13,500 currently retired players will develop these conditions. And so you can't put a hard cap of 765, and it's actually 712 when you cut it down, you can't do that if you don't know how many players there are going to be.

DAVID GREGORY:

Tony Dungy, one of the big questions about all this, as we move forward, however the settlement shakes out-- is whether, at any point, even if the NFL didn't tell everything that it knew about the dangers to players, that, had players back in the day known, would they have done anything differently?

TONY DUNGY:

Well, I don't know that they would. I played in the '70s. I had a couple concussions while I played. And it is part of the game. And I think the NFL has done a lot to make the game safer. We're trying to make it safer. And I think that's the case. But yeah, as a player, your idea was to play. And that's what a lot of us did.

DAVID GREGORY:

But, Alan, the question is did the NFL do everything it should have done for those players at the time?

ALAN SCHWARZ:

Well, I think that's obviously very debatable. Did the NFL know, did the teams know, that much prior to 1994--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

--when they formed a committee in order to look into the issue? I mean when--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Clearly, the science did change and evolve in terms of what we know about head injury.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

Absolutely. The question is whether the league's handling of the science facilitated that or impeded that. You know, Tony is, frankly, one of the retired players who, if he develops any problems as his age gets higher, you know, he will be eligible, or his family will be eligible, for $500-600-700,000, as long as he registers for this settlement. There's a lot of money that is going to be going to a lot of men who, even if the problems had nothing to do with football--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

--they will receive compensation. It's a deal that people should take very seriously.

DAVID GREGORY:

Tony, as you look at the future of the game, this is an issue the President's talked about. It's an issue that's being polled on now. We did some of our own polling, and I'll put it up on the screen. The question in our NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll was, "Would you encourage your child to play a different sport because of concussion concerns?" 40% say yes. To you, as a dad, as a former coach and player, do you see danger ahead for football?

TONY DUNGY:

Well, I think it's something we have to address. And the league is doing what they can to address it. I know we had a study that came out from the NFL Health and Safety Committee that concussions were down 13% last year. So we're working on that. But I think we've got to convince the general public that we are.

I have boys now. I have a son playing football at University of Oregon. I have five boys in my home. I would not discourage them from playing the game. I think we are making it safer. We know that there are risks. But I would not discourage my boys from playing.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Chris Collingsworth, our colleague, said, "Look, there could be real damage done to high school football, the ranks of high school football, with the high number of concussions." Do you share that concern?

TONY DUNGY:

Well, I think we have to do things to lessen that. And we have. I mean if you look at when I was playing, if you had an ACL injury, many times it was career-ending. Now we have guys getting hurt, ACL injuries, and they come back and play in that same season. So we've made progress in a lot of areas. We've got to make progress in this. No one wore mouthpieces when I played.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

TONY DUNGY:

Now we understand that mouthpieces can go a long way to help preventing concussions. And we've got our young people wearing mouthpieces now. We'll get better helmets. All of those kind of things, I think we have to continue to do that. But we can make it safer.

DAVID GREGORY:

So here's what the president said, Alan, interestingly, in his interview with The New Yorker. He said, "I would not let my son play pro football. At this point, there is a little bit of caveat emptor," he went on, "These guys, they know what they're doing. They know what they're buying into. It is no longer a secret. It's sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?" In other words, smokers know it can kill them, and they still smoke. It's not so helpful that the president said it's no longer a secret, because that suggests that maybe, at one point, it was a secret. To you, danger ahead for football?

ALAN SCHWARZ:

I don't think so. I think that, even if participation declines 10 or 20% in the youth and high school ranks, that's still tons of players, tons of enthusiasm, tons of small towns and Friday night lights. You know, if the next Tom Brady's father, in fact, does not let him play, Tom Brady was a fantastic baseball player at Serra High. Maybe he would have turned pro in baseball. But then somebody else is going to lead the New England Patriots.

I think football is going to be just fine. They will slow down the game, make it a little less reckless, hopefully actually enforce the tackling rules that have been in place since the early '70s. These kinds of things can change the sport into something that is far less dangerous.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Tony, to me, it's a culture issue, right? I mean look, there's plenty of fans, you know them, too, who say, "Let the guys play the way they play, and don't try to diminish the sport in that way." But here's the example I think of as a fan. Alex Smith, playing for the 49ers, gets a concussion. What happens? He loses his job. That's what happens.

They went on to Colin Kaepernick, who's now a superstar. Smith, by the way, is still doing great over at Kansas City. But this is a culture thing. These guys know how tough it is. But until they really buy into the idea that they've got to protect themselves, it gets very hard, doesn't it?

TONY DUNGY:

Well, we do have to get that across. And that is one of the things I know the NFL has really worked on, getting guys to report it, getting more people looking at them, and making sure that, when a player does have a concussion, that it is dealt with and treated. And I can tell you, in my 13 years as a head coach, I never had a player tell me, "Boy, I don't feel great, but the doctors say I'm okay and I can go back in there." No. They do tell you, "Hey, the doctors are holding me out. I can play, Coach, let me in." So we do have to work on that part of the culture. But I think we're doing that. I think the NFL is doing things to make the game safer on all levels, all the way up.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are they not getting it, in any respect, in the NFL? Do you think that they're still missing something that's important?

TONY DUNGY:

Oh, players want to play.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

TONY DUNGY:

There's no question about that. But I do think the educational process, we are getting things across. It is getting better. And players do understand that they have to look out for their future.

DAVID GREGORY:

Real quick, yes, go ahead.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

Sure. I think the league has a lot of influence over youth football, high school football. They make a big thing about U.S.A. Football and all the efforts that they're making. I think perhaps there can be a rule that will ultimately develop that you can't crush a child in the head just because he's holding a football. And just because the helmet met the NOCSAE standard at the time of manufacture, perhaps they should make sure it still has safety properties two years later.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ALAN SCHWARZ:

They don't do that now.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to leave it there. Alan Schwarz, Tony Dungy, thanks so much. Will Peyton win it today, Tony?

TONY DUNGY:

I think so. (CHUCKLE) I'm pulling for him. And I think the Broncos will win it.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We're going to leave it there. That's it for us today. The 22nd Winter Olympic Games kick off this Thursday on NBC. We'll have coverage on the ground there. That's it for us today. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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