By Ken Reed

As Taylor Branch said in an interview with the League of Fans a few months back, the plight of college athletes is “definitely a civil rights issue.” In that interview Branch talked mostly about how college football and basketball players are getting screwed by the NCAA and its member schools due to the fact they aren’t receiving any financial compensation beyond a scholarship despite producing a multi-million dollar product. When it comes to fair compensation for college athletes, the NCAA is clearly more interested in perpetuating the amateur myth than in doing the right thing.

Similarly, the NCAA and its member schools apparently don’t care about doing the right thing when it comes to brain trauma in college football. They’ve adopted a “stick your head in the sand” approach to the issue because they believe to do otherwise would risk the golden goose that is college football, a money-making machine that operates under a non-profit umbrella.

Patrick Hruby, our best writer/reporter/analyst when it comes to important sports issues, has written a masterful feature article at Sports on Earth on the unethical approach the NCAA and its power conferences have taken on the concussion/brain trauma issue. As Hruby points out in his piece, “Head Games,” the NCAA hasn’t done a thing to reduce brain injury risk. They haven’t developed a comprehensive concussion diagnosis and treatment protocol. They haven’t provided any support for brain-damaged former players. They don’t even warn players about the long-term brain conditions associated with contact sports like football.

“You might think potential brain trauma would fall under the ever-expanding umbrella of the NCAA’s warm, solicitous concern,” wrote Hruby. “After all, colleges and universities have a longstanding moral duty to act en loco parentis. Football can be hazardous to cognitive health; experts say that the still-developing brains of college-age men are particularly vulnerable to injury. If the NCAA’s television commercials and justification for its tax-exempt status are to be believed, campus sports are supposed to help develop young minds, not damage them. Indeed, given that making football acceptably safe was the NCAA’s original raison d’etre — the organization was founded in 1906, after Teddy Roosevelt summoned campus administrators to the White House to address a rash of gruesome football injuries and deaths — you might think that sheer institutional muscle memory would prompt college sports’ governing body to adopt a more aggressive, less laissez-faire approach.

“Guess again.”

The NCAA and its power brokers, including college presidents, have done the unthinkable. They’ve made the NFL appear enlightened when it comes the concussion/brain trauma issue.

Hruby has turned a flashlight on the NCAA’s morally-bereft response to the brain trauma issue in football. It’s up to the rest of us to turn that flashlight into a flood light.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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