Remember that big football game from this past weekend? You know, the thing that bookended the Beyonce concert? It was pretty great. After all, there is nothing more American than eating terrible food and drinking while watching large men run into each other.
All is not that well in the sport though, as more and more attention is being paid to the safety of players; the league has finally acknowledged repeated hits to the head are dangerous. Quite simply, the NFL has a concussion problem. Additionally, the macho culture of football encourages a dangerous perseverance; the desire to play through an injury is the worst possible course of action in response to head trauma.
Recently, big names like President Obama and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have voiced their opinions on the matter. And, here at NYU, we have a few of our own, too. Would you let your son play football? Let’s find out.
Last May, Junior Seau, one of the greatest linebackers of all time, committed suicide. When tested, his brain was found to have “small clusters called neurofibrillary tangles of a protein known as tau.” While tau is normally found in the brain, the tangled structures were reminiscent of Alzheimer’s. Despite being a physically healthy 43 year old, Seau’s brain was damaged. It showed clear signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease, associated with repeated head trauma. Its symptoms include dementia, memory loss, and depression.
Since 2009, the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has made strides to illuminate the disease. Prior to that year, only 49 cases of CTE had been documented in medical literature. By examining the brains of former athletes, they have shown that a great deal of athletes, independent of whether they showed signs of brain damage in life, had brain damage. The institute says that, of nineteen brains belonging to former NFL players that they have examined, eighteen showed signs of the disease.
Given these developments, it is completely understandable why President Obama doubts the safety of the game. Despite being known as a huge sports fan, he’s not sure if he would allow his son (if he had one) to play the game:
“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” the president told the New Republic. “I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”
This concern did not go over well more traditional audiences. Media personality Glen Beck called Obama a “full-fledged woman” and demanded that he turn in his ‘man-card.” “Stop being such a chick, Mr. President,” Beck said. “You’re commander-in-chief, not the chick-in-chief.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also predictably said he would let his son play the game. He also was confident that the concerns over safety would not doom the NFL:
‘I couldn’t be more optimistic about [the future of football] because the game of football has always evolved,” he said on Super Bowl Sunday. ”Through the years, through the decades, we’ve made changes to our game, to make it safer, to make it more exciting, to make it a better game for the players, for the fans, and we have done that in a very calculated fashion.”
With the jury split, we decided to ask the NYU community:
“I had two sons and I’m glad they chose not to play football. Had they insisted, I would have relented. My oldest son is a good athlete but his favorite sport was basketball. I do love to watch football, but a man who plays from high school through a professional career might play 15 or 20 years of the sport. That’s a lot of collisions. I fear that football players trim time off the end of their lives. They die young.” — Joe Lapointe, former New York Times sports writer, ‘Elective Reporting Topics: Sports’ professor
“Goodell is a spineless spin-artist, who’s willfully ignored the concussion crises to this point. So his answer is par for the course. It’s more telling that actual NFL players are saying they’d keep their kids from playing. For people from money–like the the children of presidents or NFL stars–there’s no reason to risk shaving 20 years off their lives.”–Sam Page, CAS ‘13
“It has to be known that playing football is dangerous. Much like being a police officer or fireman, there are occupational hazards to playing football.” —Ryan Gilmore, CAS’ 14
“Yeah, I would let my kids join any activity so long as it didn’t affect their schoolwork.”–Lauren Lewis, CAS ‘15
“Yes, if he wants to. But I’d be anxious at the games.”–Jon Garrity ,Tisch ‘15
“I wouldn’t really want my kid playing football because of the dangers involved. But if he really wanted to, I don’t think it would be my place as a parent to forbid it.”–Tal Kirk, CAS ‘15
“I would let them play if they wanted to and knew both the dangers and what they could do to prevent injury/protect themselves as much as possible.”–Dorian Arruntegui, Stern ‘15
“Yes, because he can do what he wants. It’s his choice. What do you want him to do, play with a balloon and wear a tinfoil hat?”–Erik Fine LSP ’15
“I’d let him do what he was interested in and if football was hs interest then I wouldn’t try to limit that.”–Michelle Epshteyn, LSP ‘15
“I would definintely allow him to play football. While I acknowledge that it’s incredibly dangerous, it’s also a great way to relieve stress, and if it’s what they want to do, I’d let them. I grew up with my parents letting me do competitive gymnastics and my brother playing ice hockey for the Naval Academy, and I think our positive experiences with contact sports lead me to feel this way. On the other hand, I’ve seen first hand some of the life-long problems that can arise from illegal hits and rough plays, but I think it would be unfair and mildly overprotective to deprive my child if that is what they really loved.” — Claire S-H, Gallatin, ‘14
“My son needs to avenge my un-athleticism. So obvi”–John Surico, CAS’13
“Absolutely not. Risk factors for serious head injury are too high. I’d want to introduce them to physical activity early in life, but in ways that carry lower risks.”–Ben Miller, CAS ‘14
“No, there are too many injuries. I would let him play baseball though; nothing with a helmet, even though I know you have to wear one to hit. But if he was really like ‘this is what I want to do’ I wouldn’t stop him.”– Tamuria Reid, Writing professor
“I would absolutely forbid them from playing. Anyways, since I’m going to be ruling my children with an iron fist, they are going to have some emotional issues and I don’t want to add brain damage to that.”–Brian McPherson, LSP ‘15
“I played football from the age of 11 until I was 14. It was fun. I mostly did it because I was sick of people thinking I was a nerd and because sports were a cool thing to do and the girls liked the boys who played them. Then I stopped playing them so I could spend my time playing music and making movies instead. And, by that I mean, I started experimenting with drugs and all the football players had heads of meat. But it was a good experience to have, and I scored a few touchdowns, which was awesome. It’s nowhere near detrimental or dangerous enough to actually prevent your kid from doing it. Let them do what they want, it’s America.”–Andrew Olshevski, Gallatin’13
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.