Spurred by the continuing injury rates in high school football and long term chronic health conditions associated with being professional players, Action on Sports or Health (ASH) is putting together a new task force.
The first two appointees come following a distinguished career in tobacco control. ASH Director Borzon said that though this may seem unusual, it was felt that not only was a new perspective needed but that the force had to be composed of people not afraid to make what might be unpopular choices.
People seem to be afraid to suggest an outright ban on the sport but we are going to keep that option on the table. The question we have to ask is: can this country afford to keep subsidizing a sport that adds disproportionately to the health burden?
Professional football players are much more likely to have dementia and Alzheimer’s and at a much earlier onset. Taxpayers are shouldering the heavy cost of long term care for not only these players but for the chronic ailments of many high school players, not to mention ten or so deaths every year, many of them still school age children. And these same taxpayers have to wait in longer lines in emergency rooms being flooded by football and other team sport injuries. We have the advantage of being able to discuss an actual ban since, unlike smoking, removing football revenues would not imperil state budgets.
There’s already been quite a bit of talk among the players and coaches already but we’re just not sure if those are the people who should be working on this. We’re taking a page from the tobacco control playbook and making sure that no one in this task force be compromised by association so no players, owners or holders of seasons tickets nor anyone associated with the sports media. Essentially, we want to block anyone with any knowledge of this sport so that we arrive at untainted solutions.
Borzon also indicated that there was some dissatisfaction with the whole helmet concept in this brutal sport. Though it appeared that there was some advantage to using helmets, it had never been proven through the accepted standard of evidence, randomized control trials.
As far as we’re concerned nothing reduces injuries like just not playing football. You can wear a helmet but its no substitute for just quitting.
Borzon said that while there was a process to satisfy to create a ban, in the meanwhile, they already had some of the funding to start the research. They already had a few good candidate locations – towns with a strong tradition of football and the it was just a matter of taking a few hundred kids, separating them into helmet and not helmet groups, and just following them for a few years
We’ll do the studies but were already pretty sure what we’ll find. This sport is a cost and not a benefit. It stresses the system and if it wasn’t for peer pressure, probably no one would bother. A couple of studies out of California have shown that almost half of high school footballers started after seeing Friday Night Lights or some movie that had football in it.
Years from now people are going to look back and be amazed that we let this go on so long.
-Paul L. Bergen