WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama can appreciate a team overcoming long odds.
Welcoming the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to the White House on Wednesday, Obama took note that some football analysts hadn't seen Seattle as a top-tier team. A die-hard fan of his hometown Chicago Bears, Obama nevertheless said he felt a certain kinship with the overachieving Seahawks.
"As a guy who was elected president named Barack Obama, I root for the underdog," the president joked.
The Seahawks clinched their first Super Bowl victory in the history of the franchise in February by beating the Denver Broncos 43-8.
The distinction for the team and by extension for the NFL came a day after a group of retired players accused the league in a lawsuit of turning a blind eye to the use of painkillers by teams that later led to serious complications.
Obama has expressed misgivings about the violence of the sport, saying in an interview with the New Yorker published early this year that if he had a son he would not let him play pro football. Next week, Obama will hold a White House meeting on concussions and sports safety at the White House that will include young athletes, professional athletes, parents, coaches and health experts.
In a nod to that controversy, Obama took note of Seahawks owner Paul Allen's charitable foundation that has donated millions of dollars to research traumatic brain injuries. "Obviously this is a concern of the NFL, but is also a concern of our troops," Obama said.
Obama singled out the team's outspoken cornerback, Richard Sherman, for being a role model to young people. Sherman was born in Compton, California, once a centre of gang activity and a city that suffered from severely underperforming schools. Sherman however was a standout student who attended Stanford University on a scholarship.
"If he seems a little brash, it's because you've got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity," Obama said.
He also recognized Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who many scouts believed would be too small to succeed in the NFL only to set a record for most wins in two first seasons by any quarterback.
"He also became only the second African-American quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl," Obama said. "And the best part about it is nobody commented on it, which tells you the progress that we've made, although we've got more progress to make."