Civil Discourse Now

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Monon Bell & CTE: Colleges should not play football

   Today I step aside from political commentary to another matter of great importance.
   Colleges and universities should not play football.
   My soul mother, a/k/a alma mater, DePauw University, plays football today against our rivals from Crawfordsville, Indiana, in the Monon Bell Classic, the oldest rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. (A colleague, last week on FB, wrote the rivalry is “moronic.” I corrected him: it is “Mononic” and stand by my correction.)
   The rivalry is spirited. When I was a Freshman—DePauw, as I understand from my last visit, encourages students to refer to themselves as being a “First Year” or “Second Year,” appellations far less confusing for students who, like me, spent two-and-a-half years in what then was “Sophomore” status—the Game was at DePauw. As a group of us walked from Bishop Roberts Hall (I had yet to pledge my frat), I asked a Senior why, on a warm sunny day, guys had gloves in their back pockets.  He said, “So when you hit somebody in the face, you don’t skin your knuckles.”
   Yes, there was a riot at half-time each year. It was a long time ago. As brontosaurs grazed in the distance, once half-time arrived, people clambered from both sides and met on the gridiron. Those who rioted violated school rules, perhaps to actualize the concept of civil disobedience. I, too, engaged in civil disobedience. I remained in the stands and consumed alcohol (against DePauw rules) from a wineskin. “Make wine, not war” was my philosophy of life.
   In the past few years we have learned of long-term brain damage sustained by those who play football.  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”), according to the Brain Injury Institute, “is a progressive degenerative disease which affects the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries.”  Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots player who was convicted of murder and hanged himself in prison, had, according to a neuropathologist who examined Hernandez’s brain, one of the most advanced cases of CTE for a player his age, that neuropathologist had seen.
   CTE destroys the lives of players and the lives of people in the players’ lives. An irony is that the better the equipment, the more common are “hits.” A better-padded player is more likely to hit an opponent as hard as possible. Better pads = > CTE.
   I say “victims” because today’s players, back in Pop Warner, were unaware CTE existed   There are indications the NFL knew of the phenomenon.
   Hall of Fame former quarterback Terry Bradshaw has described his struggles with CTE. He has said if he had a son today, he would not let his son play football.
   The NFL loves college football, a farm system for recruits the NFL, otherwise, would have to capitalize. NFL team owners do not like capitalism, but use public subsidies to finance their oligopolistic operations. The NFL likes to let others bear risk. (By the way: we should not subsidize professional sports with taxpayer dollars at all. That is a different topic to discuss at a later time.)
   Not many players have gone from DePauw or from our rival from Montgomery County to play professional football, but we should not play football at any college or university. Institutions of higher learning should not encourage students to compete in activities that kill those students’ brains. Whether a player is in Division III or whatever they call Division I this year, football should be “out.”
   I have been acculturated to watch football. Fortunately, the past couple of years both the Bears and the Colts have sucked, and I have been able to wean myself from the TV for football.
   With what should we replace football for our rivalry?
   There used to be Monon Bell Debates. From what I can tell, I participated in the first of these contests. They later devolved into fisticuffs, apparently.
   In the realm of “sports,” what would be appropriate?
   Ultimate Frisbee—not sure if that is trademarked—is popular on college campuses. We played Ultimate the last couple of years of my undergrad sojourn. A fraternity brother suffered a concussion, but he ran into a tree improvidently rooted in our field of play. In football, violence is inherent; in Ultimate, trees are not inherent. People might “warm” to Ultimate.
   Women’s field hockey is fun to watch. The sport requires women, and maybe that would encourage the college in the town that gave us Ben Hur to explode into the Twentieth Century, a bit over a hundred years late, and go co-ed. (Hey—I had to taunt a little; this is Monon Bell day.)
   The bottom line is we should not play football in college. I am a hypocrite.  I shall watch the Monon Bell game this afternoon at Moe and Johnny’s in SoBro. I only hope by next year we shall abandon football. We do not need to advocate an activity that causes students’ brains to degenerate. Of course, this afternoon, DePauw will play degenerates. (Sorry—the urge to taunt hit me again.)

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