By Ken Reed
I regularly receive notes, letters, and phone calls from readers of League of Fans’ blogs, op-ed columns, position papers, etc. I recently received a note from a father who had read my column in the Chicago Tribune titled “It’s Time to Ban High School Football.” He, his wife, and son were discussing the pros and cons of football participation in light of the growing mound of research implicating football as harmful to the human brain. These kinds of discussions are going to increasingly be part of the American landscape as football players, parents, coaches, media members and others begin to wonder if their continued involvement with football is appropriate.
Here’s the original letter and our short discussion:
I found Dr. Reed’s excellent article on the need to end High School football in the Chicago Tribune. I was researching the treacherous issue of HS football injuries, and was glad to see a name associated with the integrity of Ralph Nader.
I’m a father of a high school sophomore. My son’s mom and I aren’t together, and she let him sign up for football against my wishes. She has challenged me to come up with statistics showing that ‘football is more dangerous than driving.’ I’m actually concerned about the dangers of both, but I do intend to let him drive, so I am wanting to do a statistical comparison. Can you point me to any studies from which I might extract an apples-to-apples comparison? I realize it probably isn’t in one place, so I’m willing to keep doing some research, but I would appreciate any suggestions you could give..
Best wishes in your important work. Sincerely,
Thank you for the nice words. I don’t have the stats you’re after or even thoughts on where to lead you.
However, I would point out that the purpose of driving a car is to transport oneself, and perhaps others, from one location to another. Accidents happen while following that objective.
The purpose of football is to physically strike the players lined up in front of you. That’s an inherent part of the game. And as I believe I mentioned in the column, brain damage doesn’t even have to come from head-to-head contact. A blow to the chest can cause a whiplash effect where the brain is pounded against the inside of the skull causing a concussion or at least sub-concussive brain damage.
Accidents happen to young people riding bicycles but physical contact isn’t part of the intent of riding bikes whereas it is a major part of the intent of football.
Respectfully, to you and your wife, comparing the dangers of driving a car to the dangers of football is, I believe, an apples to oranges comparison.
I sincerely appreciate how hard a decision this is for your family. Football is a big part of school cultures and our society’s culture as a whole. However, the brain is the seat of our awareness, it’s who we are. It isn’t a torn up knee or ankle.
In terms of physical exercise, teamwork, leadership, perseverance, etc. — all the many positives from football participation — those things can be gained from participating in many other sports — none of which have as a primary intent inflicting physical damage on opposing players.
All the best to you, your wife and son.
Thanks so much for giving perspective to our discussion. I will pursue the solid studies you cited in your editorial. Hopefully, that impartial evidence will help us push upstream against the current flow of culture.
Again, thanks a lot.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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