To: Members of the South Pasadena School Board, City Council, City Manager, Principals of South Pasadena High School and Middle School, and Presidents of the Middle School and High School PTA
I’ve linked to an article wherein I argued that a consensus is building that tackle football presents a serious threat of brain disease for those participating, especially youth. The article was published for all to see. This letter is directed at you, my friends and associates, who are the education and political representatives of the City of South Pasadena.
My wife Linda and I have raised our twins, Sara and Benjamin, in this wonderful city for 24 years. During that time our children received a strong public education, and we are proud to have promoted that excellence through SPEF, PTA and other volunteer efforts. I have fond memories of attending high school football games on Friday evenings, and appreciate that the game has become a central focus of high school and community gatherings around the country.
Nevertheless, I believe that it’s time for the recipients of this letter to take a good look at this issue in light of all the science that we now have. Fortunately, our City’s leadership has within its ranks, impressive, and dedicated public servants including those trained as doctors, educators and lawyers. You all bring myriad perspectives and expertise to the analysis.
I’ve sent out my article to hundreds of individuals, many of whom have responded, none of whom disagree with the conclusion, to wit: Information relating to youth football and brain disease should be disseminated to all parents/guardians of those students, as well as students, who wish to participate in High School Football. Information should include the dangers of CTE, (chronic, traumatic encephalopathy) as well as photos of brain scans and materials referencing youth vulnerabilities to the disease.
I would recommend that a committee be formed by the School Board, with the input of all interested groups including the City Council, PTA and representatives of the teachers and student body (no doubt you have seen the recent discussion of this issue by student writers in “The Tiger”)
It isn’t clear what ultimately will result from engaging this issue in a responsible way. Unlike smoking, high school football has been a positive force in the lives of youth, their families as well as the community. Losing it would be painful, and for many aspiring players…tragic. But subjecting teenage boys to traumas that will lead to brain disease is unacceptable and we can and should no longer pretend that the dangers can be ignored.
At a minimum, the public, educational institutions and parents need to understand what the dangers are in participating in the sport as providers, participants or fans. There is a moral imperative here that can’t responsibly be denied.
Football — to play or not to play? That question is answered in the negative by parents who are learning about its dangers.
Since the release of the 2015 movie “Concussion”, a dramatization of one doctor’s attempt to expose how playing football can cause debilitating and potentially lethal brain disease, nothing has refuted this conclusion. If anything, the latest research has amplified its risks, with the findings that repetitive hits, not concussions, are the real cause of the disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These repetitive hits produce a protein that causes degeneration of the brain. As a result, according to physician and associate professor Lee E. Goldstein, a co-author of a recently published Boston University study: ”
“Current concussion protocols may not be sufficient to protect players”.
The National Football League has established a billion dollar fund to compensate players who may have sustained serious brain injury. The admission of causality only came after a class action lawsuit forced the Association to acknowledge the danger.
But while NFL professionals still choose to sacrifice their brains for money, fame and glory, what about the millions of young boys who play this game? The vast majority will never benefit from college scholarships or financial compensation. More importantly, the brains and musculature of youth increase their risk from constant on field collisions. Evidence demonstrates that the younger the player begins to participate, and the longer he plays, strongly correlates with the potential and extent of brain damage.
We then come to the question. Do the parents, community and schools that promote participation in an activity that can lead to brain disease have an obligation to question the pursuit of that activity? One might argue no, if the odds of sustaining brain damage were miniscule. But anyone reading the literature and reports about this issue over the last five-years, cannot responsibly reach that conclusion.
Dr. Goldstein brings up the moral obligation to protect young boys from harm, as we do when we prohibit them from smoking, drinking alcohol or using marijuana. The question is who has the responsibility of protecting them, and how might that occur?
At a minimum, we could require informed consent from parents or guardians before they permit their young boys from participating in tackle football. The family would receive objective and comprehensive information about the dangers of CTE and be made aware that damage to the brain accrues with the passage of time. Such informed consent could be solicited at all stages of youth football from Pop Warner through High School.
If however, the continued research and findings become more and more conclusive, there will be a call for the total prohibition of youth tackle football. Eventually, the attempt to mollify parents with better concussion and practice protocols will fall on deaf ears. And even if parents choose to ignore the evidence and support youth football, our institutions may overrule their inclination to do so.
That day may be close. It won’t take long for the Plaintiff’s bar to perceive youth football as a lucrative target. School districts may conclude that sponsoring football at their high schools may be untenable in light of the threat of liability and costly litigation. Until then it seems only prudent that all schools, and leagues promoting youth football be required to provide information about CTE and the dangers of participation. It is not enough for the coach to attempt to placate parents with assurances that “there’s danger in all activities”. Football isn’t like “all activities”. It’s one of America’s most treasured spectator sports. Tragically, it’s one of the most dangerous.