Monday, November 21, 2011

Cheerleading for Brain Damage

I confess.   I'm a football fan (Packers & Badgers).   But read the article today in the New York Times on two former NFL greats, Al Toon and Wayne Chrebet, and the lingering effects of concussions and it makes parents question whether allowing their sons to play this sport at the high school and college level is worth it.  It also makes for a great student journalism assignment utilizing basic content analysis.

The human head is not meant for bashing.  Researchers at Purdue University have found even players who receive NO concussions show declining performance on basic memory tests as the season progresses.   Smoking hurts your lungs.   Football hurts your brain.   And we are today with football where we were with cigarette smoking in the 1950's when you could see an ad that had a doctor telling you which cigarette was best.  Medical science is quickly changing what we know about the risks of playing football, and with that knowledge, parents are certainly questioning whether they want their children to play a sport that causes brain damage.

The Times reports Wayne Chrebet has three sons, ages 9, 7 and 8 weeks old.  Their future in football knowing what he knows about concussions and the risks of playing?   The Times picks a thoughtful quote.  Says Chrebet, “Knowing this stuff makes it a little harder to let the kids go out there and play football.”

So here's the content analysis assignment.   Check your local papers during this football season.  Check your local television stations.   How many substantive interviews are reporters doing with college athletic directors and football coaches and trainers about the risk of concussions?   What documents have the reporters collected about the university's concussion prevention education and training program?  What interviews have they done with student athletes and their parents about the risk of concussions?  How many university presidents have they interviewed about that risk?  How many lawyers have they interviewed about potential liability exposure to the university considering the advancements in medical knowledge?

Most likely, you won't find much because when it comes to football and the press, you don't see much reporting, just a lot of cheerleading.  

Here's an excellent story Ken Brown did while he was still a student at Kent State on what KSU players were being told to do when they got banged in the head during a game.  

The athletic department at Kent State says it did a full investigation and discovered there wasn't a problem.   If you'd like to read a copy of that full investigation you're out of luck.  The athletic department says there's absolutely nothing in writing, not a word.   Anyone taking nominations for the Penn State Ethics in Athletics Award?


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