Brain Trauma Season

It's that time of year when I look forward to the start of college football season but must acknowledge that I am a reluctant fan.  Just days after the NFL reached a financial settlement with victims of football related brain injuries, young, healthy college kids are risking serious injury to raise millions of dollars for their universities, hoping to reap their own fortune as professional players after (or before) graduation.

Recent scientific evidence leaves no doubt that repeated head injuries (even mild concussions) can lead to both structural and functional changes in the brain, sometimes resulting in early dementia or other neurologic disorders.  Of course, this is above and beyond the acute injuries that, in some cases, lead to paralysis or even death.

While football is just one of many sports in which participants wear helmets, most of the others (with the possible exception of hockey) require them in case head impacts occur; in football, helmets are worn because repeated head impacts are expected.  As we intoxicate ourselves with food, drink and football fever, standing to cheer the team and to join in our college fight song, we must acknowledge the price that many of the young athletes will pay for our entertainment.  This is one American tradition that should be relegated to history but its financial benefits to universities, networks, sports equipment companies and the NFL will surely prevent that from happening.  Highly paid professional gladiators may choose to assume the risk but encouraging high school and college students to do the same is not in their best interest; to date, preventive measures have been limited and, without significant changes in the nature of the game, they will never be adequate.