Friday, November 30, 2012

Where have you gone Rocky Marciano?

In 1955, possibly the most celebrated athlete was Rocky Marciano, the heavyweight champion.   I asked my students yesterday, "who is the current heavyweight champion?"   Not one student knew.   We no longer celebrate a sport where the goal is to render the opponent unconscious.      How long do you suppose we will celebrate the current most popular sport, one where its retired members have a tendency to commit suicide induced by the brain damage caused by the sport?

"Son, be sure to text while you drive" = "Son, be sure to play football."  Best of luck with that brain of yours.  

Retired NFL players are telling their own children not to play.  When do you think a college president may figure out a sport designed for violent collisions is not consistent with a university's mission of education?  When do you think sports reporters will start asking college presidents if a sport that causes brain damage is consistent with a university's mission?  Most likely, that won't happen until the lawsuits start coming and depositions are taken.

During Rocky Marciano's era, we had the tobacco industry.  What they sold to the public was a lie, one horribly detrimental to public health.  And as the lawsuits came, it was apparent the industry knew of the dangers and failed to disclose them.   Today, we have a similar threat to public health targeted to our sons.   And if you read the complaint filed by the NFL players against the league, you'll see amazingly striking similarities in the league's behavior and that of the tobacco companies.  

Later today, my computer-assisted reporting class hopefully launches a project it has produced on concussions.   Despite all the publicity about concussions, my students found school superintendents who don't even know if their school has a concussion policy.    My student reporters found several Ohio high schools that do not track concussions.   They also found a school district (Chillicothe) that is doing a first-rate job.  It has a detailed policy, one that requires immediate notification of the parent if there is ever a suspected concussion.  My students also discovered a school district where the football players must run around covered with pillows saying "careful, careful, careful" as they run their plays, because this is a school district that says it has not had an athletic concussion in 9 years.

What's happening at your school?   Does it track all concussions in games and practice?   Does it require concussion education for all coaches?   Does it require immediate notification of the parent for any suspected concussion injury?  That's an easy story for any reporter in any market to do.    But to do that story, you have to put down your pom poms and pick up your pen.


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