Today, I’ll be wishing many terrible things on Harvard, but the one thing I wouldn’t wish on their football team is football.
I’ve talked on this blog a couple times about how the concussion-heavy sports of football and boxing seems like an abhorrent assault on human dignity. In a slightly analogous way to the claim you don’t have the right to sell yourself into chattel slavery, I don’t think we have the right to be paid to take repeated hits to the head that will wipe out your personality and intellect in your forties and fifties, before it takes you away from your family entirely. And I think it’s unethical to pay people to be concussed for sport or to cheer it on. Just because the injuries are less visible than those of gladiatorial combat doesn’t make the damage any less real.
And, aside from the professional leagues, the prevalence of football among young people represents a serious threat as well. I’m delighted that participation in Pop Warner football has decreased, but, the kids still playing in high school will, on average, receive twice as many concussions as those in college football or high school players in other sports.
Football kills people by inches. And it makes families experience the pain of dementia in the prime of life. The small adjustments to tackling form and to helmet design haven’t been shown to substantially mitigate that risk. We sometimes ask people to put their bodies and their minds on the line when the stakes are high (war, being the control in a randomized trial, etc), but the camaraderie, adrenaline, and excuse for drinking that football provides does not remotely begin to justify condemning people (even with their consent) to a slow, painful, early death.