These are some comments about individual responsibility.
Football season has arrived. But do fans who financially support the sport bear any responsibility for the fearsome health toll endured by far too many of the young men who play professional, college, and even high school football?
The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed a 2017 study of 202 brains of men who had played high school, college, or NFL football. It found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 87%, including 29% of those who just played the game in high school. Of the 111 NFL brains, 110 had CTE. Many studies show CTE causes or exacerbates problems with basic cognitive function, memory loss, dementia, depression, and even suicide.
CTE is caused by being hit in the head too often, which is a fundamental fact of football. As sportscaster Bob Costas acknowledged, “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains — not everyone’s, but a substantial number.” That admission cost Costas his NBC Sports gig.
Of the 111 NFL brains, 110 had CTE, which causes or exacerbates problems with basic cognitive function, memory loss, dementia, depression, and even suicide.
Aside from the nightmare of brain damage, I know far too many men who played high school football and who, when still young, in middle age, or even older, suffer intractable problems with back pain, knee trouble, and the like, dating back to their long-faded days of gridiron glory.
Also troubling is that, as The Atlantic reports, it is boys from poor and black homes who tend to play competitive football. More affluent white fans increasingly shield their own boys from the dangerous sport while paying to enjoy others’ sons’ exploits on the field.
There is a credible case for football. I grew up a big football fan who loved playing touch football, and many of my happy times in high school were at football games. And in a school full of racial tension, the one time we seemed united was at a Friday night football game. There are millions of young men, especially those without a father, whose lives have been enhanced by a strong football coach and father figure who instilled priceless lessons in the values of hard work, teamwork, self-discipline, and many other virtues.
How many boys are pressured by parents, peers, coaches, and the popular culture to make short-term decisions with devastatingly painful consequences?
There has apparently been a real effort in many places to reduce football injuries. But the virtues of football can still be taught in other sports and competitions without remotely as much risk of serious, life-altering brain damage. Indeed, no matter how many precautions are taken, how natural and healthy is it for young men and, even worse, growing boys to hit their heads so hard again and again? Like boxing, organized football boils down to a game of brutal combat.
While more high schoolers today may be warned about the long-term risks of the sport, how many 14-to-17-year-old boys think seriously of what the game may do to their health in middle age — or even next year? Are they mature enough to make such an important decision with such potentially profound, life-altering, and permanent results? Furthermore, how many boys are pressured by parents, peers, coaches, and the popular culture to make short-term decisions with devastatingly painful consequences? How many authority figures and fans coax vulnerable youths to risk serious injury for others’ profit and entertainment?
As a boy in the 1970s, I loved seeing Muhammad Ali box Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Ernie Terrell, Jimmy Young, Jimmy Ellis, and Leon Spinks. But the terrible brain damage every one of these gentlemen suffered in the ring now prevents me from watching a boxing match. Recall Ali after he left the ring. The enormous evidence of the tragic toll taken on the bodies — and especially brains — of football players similarly precludes me from supporting organized football.
As a libertarian, I oppose outlawing football — or boxing or even “ultimate fighting.” God gives us free will. However, each right should be exercised wisely, for we must live with the outcomes of our actions — every one of them. Everyone must account for his actions, and whatever we back with our money and time makes us morally responsible for the results.