By James F. Humphreys

“Every aspect of each sport should be reconsidered with an eye towards brain trauma.” — Chris Nowinski, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center at Boston University.

Ken Reed has written a clear, and sometimes provocative, analysis of what is wrong with sports in present day America and, what’s more, has provided a comprehensive and compelling plan for reforming the most common and disastrous of our bad practices.

Sports consume Americans, from football (with the Super Bowl garnering TV’s highest ratings annually) to T-ball, almost all of us play or watch some sporting activity and the most vigorous, and often the most dangerous, seem to be among our favorites. Many of these sports are not safe for professional adults and not safe for the children who play under our unknowing or uncaring eyes.

Sports represent huge money to professional teams (the NFL is a $9,000,000,000 per year business) and pride to parents and their children who play. Some games, particularly football and soccer, also represent dangerous and deadly activities.

In football, for instance, Boston University researchers have found that in high school football, each lineman will receive 1,000 or more blows to his head each season he plays. And no helmet, particularly high school helmets which are often recycled year after year, can prevent brain trauma.

At the professional level, the NFL has lied to players and fans alike for years, insisting the game is essentially safe and the thousands of blows to the head a player will receive in a lifetime are not dangerous, debilitating, or deadly. All lies.

The settlement of a class action brought by lawyers with little brain injury experience, leaves the great majority of former NFL players without compensation for easily diagnosed traumatic brain injuries suffered playing and practicing for their teams.

The Brain Injury Association of America, with which I was formerly affiliated as an officer, brought legal action to stop the class action suit and compel a re-writing of the settlement to include more of the injured in benefits. It was unsuccessful.

While we cannot directly influence the court system or the billionaire NFL team owners, Ken Reed, and others in his book point out we can do something at the amateur level.

No children before high school should play tackle football. Even then playing remains problematic. According to the Brain Research Institute, one in five high school football player sustains brain injury.

Reed goes too far, I believe in writing, “Football at the high school level is doomed.” Too many of our fellow citizens and their sons love the Friday Night Lights. What we can do, as parents, is keep our children from playing too young; demand much safer helmets, better practice and coaching techniques, and an absolute ban on sending a player back into a game who has been concussed or suffered any sort of visible brain injury. These are small changes from today’s practices, but in light of the almost certain continued existence of amateur football, they remain better than the status quo.

Football is not the only sports issue Reed tackles. Taxpayer subsidies of sports he addresses, albeit too briefly. The building of stadiums, costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars for private corporations, as schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure crumble around us remains, as Reed reminds us, a national shame.

The lack of physical education programs for all students is addressed by Reed, who proposes a set of solutions to the problem of inactive and increasingly obese students, including daily physical activity programs for all students.

Better, more humanistic, less win-at-any-cost coaches, safe programs for all students, safer competition, and much greater civic involvement are all part of the mosaic of reforms of sports in America proposed by Reed.

This is a book well worth reading, with facts worth knowing, and a call-to-action worth adopting.

James F. Humphreys heads the legal team at James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. His firm has been ranked in the top 75 firms in the nation by Shook & Hardy’s survey of the defense bar.

How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan, by Ken Reed, is now available in a paperback edition with a new introduction.


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