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.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon