93 Million Liars

Is it ethical to WATCH football (American)? The question might be dismissed quickly by many fans, but the answer is NO. (Full disclosure: I am a fan.)
When I’m faced with a difficult question, I trust my instincts. My gut feeling. Does it feel right? It does not. It never was right. I was lying to myself.

Anybody who knows me knows that I love the game of football. Probably more than 75% of fans. I can claim that because: 75% of fans do not read books on the intricacies of the game, watch rewinds of games to improve analytic understanding of those intricacies, or chart games on paper. Anybody who knows me knows that I am fanatical about my team, and even more so about their quarterback. I bleed the color blue. I also manage three fantasy teams each year.

It is my greater love of life that has come to overpower my love for the sport. Make no mistake; this is a matter of life and death. I will not expound on the statistics and references. This is an essay about ethics. I will point you to three other widely read articles concerning the matter, inside each of which you can click several links for more information should you choose. There is a wealth of information out there, probably some better than these. Certainly some arguing both sides. Go find it if you are looking to justify your position.

Jonah Lehrer: The Fragile Teenage Brain via Grantland, January 10, 2012

Tyler Cowen & Kevin Grier: What Would the End of Football Look Like? via Grantland, February 9, 2012

Interview with Malcom Gladwell by Slate, April 30, 2012 

Information, studies, helmets, reporting, medical advancements … those are not the heart of the matter. Read the very last question of the Gladwell interview.

Slate: Should the NFL be banned too?

Gladwell: As long as the risks are explicit, the players warned, and those injured properly compensated, then I’m not sure we can stop people from playing. A better question is whether it is ethical to WATCH football. That’s a harder question.

Why not answer the harder question honestly first, and then proceed to debate the specifics?

It is not ethical to put children in football uniforms, so that they are exposed to repeated head trauma, which may lead to severe problems or death, even if it were only 1 out of every 100 children at risk, and even if the evidence were not scientifically proven yet. There are other ways to build character, teamwork, and related positive virtues. I believe that even one life, which knowingly could have been saved, is too important. Many more than one brain has already been obliterated.

Football is a great sport, but we need to rethink how it can be played responsibly. Clutching on to the glory of past warriors who survived is a dishonor to game. To honor the game, we must admit that we might be wrong, and work to fix it.

Even if that means changing the rules drastically.

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