Sunday, September 13, 2015

Educational institutions and football

In the light of the brain damage resulting from football, it is a serious question whether it's morally permissible to participate in or support the sport at all. Still, one can make a case that there are human excellences that this sport provides a particularly good opportunity for (I am grateful to Dan Johnson for this point), and the brain damage is an unintended side-effect, so there might be a defense of the sport in general on the basis of the Principle of Double Effect.

But I think it is particularly difficult to defend educational institutions supporting this sport among students. For the defining task of an educational institution is to develop the minds of the students. But brain damage harms the individual precisely in respect of mental functioning. And it is much harder for an organization to justify an activity that has among its side-effects serious harm to the goods pursuit of which defines the organization.

37 comments:

Heath White said...

An alternative theory is that major football schools are sports franchises with an educational institution attached for tax purposes. This might explain some decisions they make.

Dan H. said...

I suspect most of the positives one could glean from football could also be gleaned from other sports that have decreased risks of concussions (even if they are non-zero).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dan:

My former student Dan Johnson, who was also a former football player, argued persuasively that the body type that football excellence involves is a body type not suited to other sports which exhibit the same excellences.

I suspect, however, that if we put enough effort into it, we could come up with some thing where similar excellences are involved and a similar body type is involved. (For instance, while touch football doesn't involve strength, one could have something silly like that after a touchdown the team is required to carry a small car together, and the distance they carry it in, say, 20 seconds determines the score they get.)

All sports involve danger of injury. (As I write this, I have ice packs lying on my arms due strains from indoor rock climbing. :-) ) But injury to the brain is particularly problematic in an educational context.

Heath:

Do many of the schools on balance actually make money on football? I don't know if that would make it worse--endangering the brains of one's students for money would be really odious--or in some way better as maybe one could look at the football players as people who bravely sacrifice their future wellbeing for the educational goods of the school supported by the funds raised.

Heath White said...

I don’t know whether major sports schools make money on their sports. I suspect that if you just count ticket sales, no. On the other hand if you consider that alumni donations and enthusiasm are much higher during winning seasons than losing seasons, or that many students want to attend a sports powerhouse for just that reason, then the math changes considerably.

My actual view is not quite that major football schools are sports franchises incognito. Rather, that at many schools where sports is a major factor, lots of stakeholders, especially alumni and students, care more about the sports status of the school than about the educational function of the school. Administrators may have the same relative levels of concern either directly, say because they are in the athletic department, or indirectly, say because they know that donations to the school depend much more on NCAA rankings than on academic rankings.

In such cases, it is not surprising that the educational function of the school is sacrificed to the sports function. It already is when, for example, athletes are held to lower academic standards.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. One does need to count alumni donations and tuition from increased enrollment as financial benefits, except that alumni donations to athletic programs should not count, except insofar as they help generate further alumni donations to non-athletic programs and tuition.

I did come across this paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18196.pdf . Quote: "we find robust evidence that football success increases athletic donations, increases the number of applicants, lowers a school’s acceptance rate, increases enrollment of in-state students, increases the average SAT score of incoming classes, and enhances a school’s academic reputation. The estimates are up to twice as large as comparable estimates from the previous literature. There is less evidence that football success affects donations outside of athletic programs or enrollment of out-of-state students."

They also do a back of the envelope calculation: "a $1 million investment in football team expenditures increases alumni athletic donations by $109,000, increases annual applications by 108, and increases the average incoming SAT score by 1.4 points. These effects seem too modest by themselves to offset the additional expenditures. However, if increases in team expenditures generate commensurate increases in athletic revenue (another finding in Orszag and Israel (2009), though a portion of this relationship is presumably due to reverse causality), then the effects estimated here represent a 'bonus' that the school gets on top of the increased athletic revenue."

I would add that any financial calculation would need to take into account the probability that a team will do badly and that this might depress alumni spirit at a school where alumni care about the sport and hence depress non-athletic donations.

2. And I emphasize that such financial considerations are odious when the financial benefits, if they exist, come with the side-effect of brain injury in students.

3. It's striking how little is actually known about these financial effects. One shouldn't run a big business on the basis of back of the envelope calculations and guesswork about alumni spirit. Administrators are, however, intelligent people. So the best explanation is that they aren't running a business. They are, in fact, running an educational institution (with an athletic program that distorts what we can charitably assume to be laudable aims to educate students not just as minds but as embodied beings and to contribute to wholesome recreation and school spirit).

Heath White said...

Ad 1: But... but.. but... this is empirical! :-)

Ad 3: I agree that administrators are not running their athletic departments as a business, and it is indeed a striking fact, to be explained, that the financial return on a football program is not well understood. (Unless administrators do have this information and are not telling.) An alternative hypothesis to yours (though not exactly incompatible with it) is that administrators are running a prestige factory, measured not in dollars but in kudos/honor/glory. The best scholarship for analyzing such a system would be the anthropology of tribal societies. Just like in the Iliad, material rewards flow both to those who lead the tribe (the administrators; here we mean paychecks) and to those who gain the glory on the field of battle (the athletes; here we mean various perks). But everybody likes being associated with the glorious victor tribe.

PS. Ivy League universities are probably also running prestige factories, they just go about it in a different way. Nobody knows how much a distinguished professor contributes to the bottom line, either.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The prestige hypothesis is more plausible than the financial one, I think, and it more uniformly explains a wider variety of decisions (pretty new buildings, focus on those sports that the public cares more about, distinguished hires) across a range if schools. Even an insistence on faculty seeking grants can be explained as well or better via the prestige hypothesis as through financial hypotheses.

That said, I would hope that what we have at the conscious level is a pursuit of excellence in teaching and research, plus the common human failing of slipping from pursuing an end to pursuing signs and correlates of the end.


There is definitely material for interesting anthropological research here.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The prestige hypothesis is more plausible than the financial one, I think, and it more uniformly explains a wider variety of decisions (pretty new buildings, focus on those sports that the public cares more about, distinguished hires) across a range if schools. Even an insistence on faculty seeking grants can be explained as well or better via the prestige hypothesis as through financial hypotheses.

That said, I would hope that what we have at the conscious level is a pursuit of excellence in teaching and research, plus the common human failing of slipping from pursuing an end to pursuing signs and correlates of the end.


There is definitely material for interesting anthropological research here.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Prestige as an end would make football less morally repugnant than if the ends were financial. For since the glory is fully shared by the players there would be much less exploitation on this hypothesis.
(But it's still morally unjustifiable, especially since prestige isn't in fact the defining end of the institutions, even if it is the ends actually being pursued by powerful individuals.)

Heath White said...

Good point, that if the end is prestige, football is slightly less exploitative. (Because the players certainly aren’t getting paid!) Slightly. Personally, if we want sports where big men get to be violent, I think we should bring back jousting, or maybe pankration.

Here is some armchair anthropology about why university administrators might rationally pursue prestige for their institutions. (This is not a claim about anybody’s consciousness.) “Honor” cultures tend to flourish when the primary goods at stake are collective, e.g. small societies rely on collective food production and military might. “Guilt” cultures, by contrast, tend to flourish with individualism. E.g. once you have a largish political unit and a rough rule of law, people will more or less rise and fall on their own initiative, rather than depending on the performance of the collective. (I’m sure that description could be improved.)

Now note that the main good universities provide—namely, a degree—is for the most part a collective good. If you hold a degree from Harvard, this is prestigious, regardless of how you did or what your major was or how much you know. If you hold a degree from U of Phoenix, this is not prestigious, again regardless of any personal attributes.

Where do sports come in? (Here the speculation gets very thick.) Well, sports powerhouses also are often flagship state universities, or otherwise reasonably highly ranked. I hypothesize that, owing to a feature of human nature not widely shared by intellectuals, the sports prowess of a school has a halo effect conferring a general “high quality” shine onto a degree. It is, for whatever reason, valuable, socially and financially.

If all of that were true (ha!) then one dimension on which administrators could add value to the degrees conferred by their university would be to improve the sports performance of their teams. And one could expect this incentive to drop off only when graduates were not judged by what institutions their degree came from, but by other more idiosyncratic properties.

Alexander R Pruss said...

There is no doubt a halo effect, if only of the sort that most people will differentiate between a degree from a school they haven't heard of and a degree from a school they have heard of, even if they don't remember the context in which they heard of the school. This may function even among academics: we might have only heard of a school because of a headline about a sports game (or about a scandal, but perhaps in that case the memory will be associated with something vaguely negative even after we've forgotten that there was a scandal) and may not even remember that that's how we heard of it.

One could experiment with this. For instance, have someone one day read a short story which happens to mention that a minor character, about whom one knows neither good nor ill, went to Northern Obscurity University (well, we should have a more plausible name for it), and then in a day or two have people rank two resumes which are similar except that one went to Northern Obscurity and the other to Eastern Blandness.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way: "the players certainly aren’t getting paid": In the gerrymandered sense of "paid" that makes them amateurs for athletic purposes, they aren't getting paid. In any real economic sense, of course many of them are being paid with scholarships.

Heath White said...

"the players aren't getting paid" : you're right.

Also worth noting is that, insofar as what is valuable about college is a degree, and its value depends on school reputation rather than individual achievement, students have an incentive to care more about their school's general reputation than about their own educational experience.

This is more peculiar the more I think about it.

Gideon Jeffrey said...

Thanks for the post on this - as a fan of college football, I worry a lot about concussions.

I'm not familiar enough with the data on just how likely it is for a college football player suffer a concussion (or more) over the course of a four-year career, or how likely it is that those injuries impair cognitive function. I'd be curious to hear your perspective on what role these likelihoods would play in the argument; what counts as an unacceptable risk? Football is the sport with the highest risk of concussion, by far. But there is also a far smaller, yet not insignificant, risk of concussions in other sports - women's soccer, for example. What degree of risk should cause a university to consider eliminating women's soccer as well?

Alexander R Pruss said...

This site claims 10% brain injury rate over a college football career: http://cfafund.org/faqs
I don't know about severity.

To my mind, 10% is unacceptably high. (Think about parallels. Would one serve a food in the cafeteria, no matter how delicious, that had a 10% chance of causing brain injury over the course of a college career?)

There is a prudential judgment, and I just don't know where the line is to be drawn. Personally, I wouldn't allow my kids to engage in a sport where there was a 1% brain injury rate in a career.

Interestingly the data here claims a higher concussion rate in women's soccer than in men's soccer or men's football: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2987636/
Curiously, other data I've seen says women's soccer has a lower concussion rate than men's soccer.

Gideon Jeffrey said...

Thank you for the links - that information is helpful.

10% does seem unacceptably high, I agree. As to severity: the Brain Injury Association of America, quoted by the CFA site you linked above, says that 75% of traumatic brain injuries are classified as "mild" - but I confess that I have no idea what that means, practically speaking. If dizziness, irritability, fatigue, etc. caused by a "mild" injury last for months, which certainly can happen, then I'm not sure that "mild" is the right descriptor.

One thing that comes to mind with the cafeteria analogy is this: a defender of college football might try to argue that the goods available from participating justify the risk (and are much more significant than the deliciousness of one's food, for example). I expect this kind of argument will come up more than once at the Baylor IFL conference! Of course, it takes a lot of work to argue that these supposed great goods really are emphasized in college football programs, or that college football players regularly achieve all these goods through playing football, or that these goods cannot just as well be obtained in other ways (or through more creative sports, as you suggest above).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Another analogy. Suppose that there was a geology summer field research experience which was educationally excellent. But 10% of the students who did that field research got brain injuries. (Perhaps the research involves cave dividing, and the particular caves that are being explored are especially dangerous.) Would a university's Risk Management approve this research experience? I doubt it. Yet there could be quite significant educational benefits (and in an educational institution, the educational benefits should count for more than the human excellences involved in sports).

There am I leading twenty young geologists into the field. And I know from past experience that two of these people who have been commended into my care will get brain injuries. It'll be Susan, or Bob, or John, or .... That's just awful!

We would say: Change this field research to something else, perhaps in a different subfield or something a little less educational but much safer.

Would we approve medical research, even medical research expected to have significant scientific benefits, where 10% of the subjects were expected to get a brain injury? I doubt it (exception: the subjects have a life-endangering condition such that if they don't get the experimental treatment, they will die).

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, if 2.5% get non-mild brain injuries (25% of 10%)--that's really, really awful!

Heath White said...

Apropos of this discussion,

_Billion Dollar Ball: A Journey through the Big-Money Culture of College Football"

also recently reviewed in the Fiscal Times.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067001673X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=067001673X&linkCode=as2&tag=abnorretur-20&linkId=V5CVLZCGSLMWVJYW

steve said...

The objection to intramural football overlooks several issues:

i) What's the standard of comparison? On the one hand, there safer activities than contact sports like football. On the other hand, there are more dangerous activities than football.

Many boys are prone to high-risk behavior. Football can be a way of channeling their natural aggression in a less dangerous and destructive forum. It's not risk-free, but it has built-in safeguards.

By contrast, if you forbid football, that doesn't automatically reduce injury. In fact, that may magnify injury. Rambunctious boys will substitute a more dangerous activity, like gangbanging. By depriving them of the less dangerous alternative, they revert to a more dangerous activity.

ii) Apropos (i), given the popularity of football, if you ban it, that will foster an underground culture without the safeguards of regulation football.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), a few weeks ago I read part of Mark Twain's autobiography, where he talks about growing up in Hannibal. Every year, several Hannibal boys drowned in the Mississippi. That's because parents didn't teach them how to swim. They simply forbad them to play in the river.

But, predictably, boys ignored the prohibition. Learning how to swim doesn't guarantee that you won't drown. However, it's safer than not knowing how to swim. If they are going to do it anyway, is it not better to teach them how to swim?

iv) I'm not suggesting this applies to everything. If an activity is intrinsically wrong, then there's no duty to make it safe or safer. But you'd have to show that football is intrinsically wrong.

v) Finally, have you considered the possibility that as a philosopher, you overvalue the intellect to the detriment of other virtues?

Alexander R Pruss said...

If the primary point is to provide a safer outlet for rumbunctious high school and college age males, it seems likely that if we set out intentionally to pursue precisely that end, we can find such an outlet. My son does indoor rock climbing and fencing. Climbing fifty feet up provides oodles of excitement, but the total injury rate from indoor climbing is about a tenth of football's concussion rate, presumably because of excellent safety equipment. Fencing is a highly active and intrinsically extremely exciting sport, with excellent safety equipment. (I suppose that in both cases there may be worries about scaling while maintaining safety.)

Further, while I haven't tried it myself, I expect that one can set up paintball environments combining very high levels of excitement and teamwork, with much higher safety than in football.

And while it's good when a sport simultaneously provides vigorous physical activity and great excitement, if the point is to provide an outlet, the two aspects can be separated, admittedly at the cost of some time efficiency, say by having physically strenuous but safe calisthenics combined with really exciting competitive video games (designed so as not to be morally harmful, of course).

In any case, I am not proposing a blanket prohibition on football. I just don't think educational institutions should be sponsoring this sport.

Heath White said...

Steve,

I am extremely sympathetic to a postulated Law of Conservation of Adolescent Male Aggression. The whole trick is to challenge the aggression and risk-seeking behavior into non-catastrophic outcomes. Part of the issue with football is that there is no way to play tackle football much more safely. You cannot avoid repeated hard clashes of helmets on the line, and tackling hard for pain and injury is an obvious strategy that can't be regulated away.

I am particularly fond of combat sports. For example I was a wrestler in high school. Wrestling has an injury rate nearly as high as football. But wrestlers injure their knees while football players injure their brains. Also, while there is some danger of neck injuries in wrestling, you can regulate what moves are legal to prevent those injuries.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

By the way, there is empirical evidence of a Law of Conservation of Child Physical Activity. Apparently when kids have more physical education at school, their total physical activity level is unchanged. (I think there may nonetheless be benefits to physical education at school: supervision can make for greater fairness in games, safety can be monitored, and there are kids like I was who are exceptions to the Law and who need enforced physical activity.)

I think part of the problem is that when traditional older sports were developed, (a) safety wasn't a primary concern, and (b) there wasn't knowledge of what kinds of impacts produce what kinds of harms to the person.

In computing, there is talk of designing from the ground up with security as a central concern vs. plugging holes. Similarly, it seems to me that designing a sport from the ground up with safety in mind (and making use of what we know about which sorts of injuries are more serious) is much more promising than tweaking a seriously dangerous older sport like football. (Though there are also older sports--tennis, say--that are not seriously dangerous, so there is no danger of a complete loss of tradition.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose that in the US football was as much a niche interest as dodgeball, and that a school's flagship men's sport was a brain-safe variant of dodgeball (maybe with excellent helmets and softer balls; since person-to-person impacts are accidental to dodgeball while essential to football, brain-injury safety should be possible). But then someone proposed switching from dodgeball to football on the grounds of the differences in the sophistication of game play and the types of human excellences involved in the game. I think that as soon as it was noticed that football was (let's suppose) 10 times as dangerous as the dodgeball variant, there would be very few schools switching from the dodgeball variant to football, notwithstanding the athletic merits of football.

The thought experiment suggests that the popularity of football and/or school tradition, rather than the athletic merits, are what is largely responsible for the high incidence of football. (Of course, the athletic merits may have played a role in football's becoming popular, there presumably being some sort of mimetic selection here. That point weakens my argument, admittedly.)

But we are happy to abandon unnecessary dangerous school traditions--say, hazing. And an educational institution should not be teaching any of its students to sacrifice their minds (which are tightly interconnected with their brains on any plausible theory of mind) for the sake of popular acclaim--quite the opposite.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

We've come a long way over the past 50 years in understanding traumatic brain injury.

Here I have two pictures of testing football helmets which reflects a century's worth of change.

Testing football helmets in 1912:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-yJv0OgHKFvU/Uvnl-juNOUI/AAAAAAAAcYo/WCgUxghbIkA/s1600/Testing+football+helmets+in+1912.jpg


Testing football helmets today:

http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/bfe/incoming/article886139.ece/ALTERNATES/w620/web-TTL-helmet20nw1.jpg


A century ago, football was a far more brutal sport (as was boxing). There were substantial more deaths on the prep school and college gridiron. The carnage was almost the end of football itself until reforms were introduced into the game.


http://www.history.com/news/how-teddy-roosevelt-saved-football



There is a change in the physical type, that is the mass and speed of the athletes has increased substantially. Keep in mind momentum as mass times velocity and that momentum is always conserved in a collision. I saw an impressive example of this last year when I attended the game between the Michigan Wolverines and Utah State in Ann Arbor. It was a very hard hit that the Michigan players put on the Utah State quarterback, launching him airborne over shoulder height. The guy really flew high like a rag doll all sprawled out. and his helmet came off. Another impressive collision that I remember was one I saw attending a game at Eastern Michigan University. Some two, three players collided with each other at full speed as they were trying to catch the ball. The impact was such that they were down on the ground stunned.

Another problem with more massive football players that my finite element professor, Bill Anderson, told us about was that there is such a thing as putting on way too much muscle mass for the material strength of the bone structure which can result in fractures.

By the way, I can't wait to see a matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and the Baylor Bears.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The better safety equipment, while a good idea, alas no doubt has a risk compensation effect which offsets some of the improvements.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I have read once somewhere that the better helmets have actually encourage players to use their heads in making hits. The better protection, the riskier the behavior. I did find this article:

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/43934/straight-dope-would-football-be-safer-without-pads/

Here is another article in USA Today on helmets and concussions. There is the idea of a padded cap to go over the helmet and adding sensors that detect hits beyond a certain level of force:


http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2013/07/30/concussions-college-football-nfl-guardian-caps/2601063/


Another area where helmets are important part are equestrian sports. When I first started taking lessons, no one wore helmets unless you were jumping. The helmets were pretty much these unpadded shells. Over the past 30+ years there has been a tremendous evolution in head gear to protect the equestrian. One of my friends is still alive today thanks to these modern helmets which are ASTM rated. His horse didn't take off correctly at a jump and he had a very bad fall. In struggling to stay on all fours, my friends horse stepped on his head. My friend was unconscious with a concussion and spent the night in the hospital. The helmet was destroyed. 30-40 years ago or so, this would have been a fatal accident.

In a similar vein, some people don't recommend the use of Sports Medicine boots or similar leg wear on their horses' legs because they believe that the animal will have an equine version of risk compensation and that this supportive leg wear encourages an animal to act up more. On my Thoroughbred, Merlin, I always had them on his legs. Risk compensation or not, I had no desire for nightmarish vet bills or a miserably lengthy layup because being over 15 years of age, Merlin no longer qualified for health insurance.

steve said...

Thanks to Heath and Alex for your replies. Dagmara made some informative observations as well. Sorry for my belated response:

i) If a father can persuade his son to play a less hazardous sport, then that's clearly preferable.

However, many boys are strongly drawn to team sports in general, and contact sports in particular. They won't accept tennis or fencing as a substitute.

ii) Now, I'm not suggesting that parents should accede to whatever junior wants. But wise parents pick their battles. If junior has his heart set on playing football, and you forbid it, that can be a recipe for juvenile delinquency and teenage rebellion. So there are tradeoffs to consider. Is it worth burning bridges that can't be rebuilt?

Most boys don't play football after high school. They don't have the talent for college football or pro football. So it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

iii) Paintball is a promising alternative. Good point! So is archery tag.

iv) Indoor rock climbing may well be safer in the short term, but surely there will be a strong temptation to test himself against the real thing (outdoor rock climbing) once he leaves home. So I think that's more dangerous in the long-term. He will take the skills he learned in a controlled environment, then apply them to scaling cliffs. To my knowledge, that's far more hazardous given the combined risk of frequency and severity of injury.

v) I doubt boys view video games as an alternative to contact sports. Either they do both anyway or else they are nerdy kids only play video games instead contact sports (or vice versa).

vi) Isn't the issue of brain damage related to cumulative concessions? What's the standard of comparison? Kids who quit after high school, or career football players?

vii) I've read that concussions are quite common in soccer. Players accidentally colliding with each other. I imagine that would be potentially more damaging since they lack the protective headgear of football players.

viii) Why single out football to the exclusion of other risky sports like lacrosse, ice hockey, martial arts, horseback riding, skateboarding, cycling, and motorbiking? What about spinal chore injuries in gymnastics, pole-vaulting, and high diving?

ix) I agree with Alex that when traditional older sports were developed, safety wasn't a primary concern. However, it's too late to turn the clock back. We can't forget what we know. Once it becomes entrenched, once it becomes wildly popular, we can't induce collective amnesia and make fans switch to something (allegedly) safer. The demand is there.

x) Finally, when assessing comparative stats on rates of injury, is that percentage based on the popularity of the game or average incidence of injury per game?

For instance, far fewer people might be injured in horseback riding than football, even if horseback riding is riskier, simply because far fewer people ride horses than play football. What's the sample group? Do the stats separate those two elements?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Regarding the last question, the injury rates in the literature that I've seen are given per thousand exposures, where an exposure is a game or a practice per participant.

Regarding the second last, educational institutions are quite free to choose which sports, if any, to sponsor, regardless of fans. (The entertainment of fans is anyway a relatively incidental part of the value of sport. The main value is the pursuit of human excellences by the athletes, whether anyone sees it or not.) There may be repercussions, of course, but there is frequently a price for doing the right thing. And it's a teaching opportunity for the institution. (Plus I suspect there are educational benefits simply in switching to less popular sports, in that the schools are less likely to go overboard in pursuit of sports in ways that distract from more central educational goals.)

As for rock climbing, I fully agree about the danger of outdoor climbing, and so the prudence of the indoor variety depends on the personality of the child. Some individuals are very cautious and hence unlikely to transfer to a more dangerous sport.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I should add that my focus in the post is on educational institutions. The argument depends on the primary responsibilities of educational institutions. Parents' responsibilities are broader, and just as a parent (in consultation with medical professionals) can sometimes responsibly decide that the child needs to undergo a dangerous medical operation, so too the parent (in consultation with mental health professionals) can decide that the child's psychological profile requires a particular dangerous sport. Just as dangerous medical operations are provided by organizations other than schools, so too in the case (hopefully rare, given all the alternatives we discussed) where mental health requires a dangerous sport, an organization other than a school could provide it. (I suspect that such clinicization of football would make it less popular with the kids, and that's a feature, not a bug.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, do you know how safe the Archery Tag arrows are? The one company that runs the whole business of course says that they are safe. And I'm sure the foam tips are safe, and from photos they are built into the arrow in a way that looks really good. But my worry is that arrows do occasionally break on shooting (it's never happened to me yet, but I've seen a bamboo atlatl dart come apart seemingly mid-flight, and the archery range is full of broken arrows). After all, recurve arrows are subjected to nasty bending stresses due to archer's paradox. If that happened to one of these arrows, you could have a scary situation since the back half of a broken arrow wouldn't have a foam tip and might have a sharp break on the front. I am hoping that they design their arrows to prevent breaking, but I'd like to know more about the materials and how many firings they're tested through. (Though it's mainly theoretical in my case.) The company's patents seem to primarily relate to the way that the foam is attached, not to the shaft.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

If we need a psychologist to determine if a boy should play football, I feel so sorry for us. That would be very pathetic.

After reading all these comments, I have these words of advice: Don't get out of bed, don't go outside, and don't drive a car. You will be absolutely safe.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, the presumption is that he shouldn't play football. But there are rare cases where a kid might need that sort of activity.

Everyday driving of a car in an area where the commutes aren't very long isn't as dangerous as the more dangerous sports.

Football has an overall injury rate of 8 per 1000 exposures (= practice or game). This makes each exposure roughly equivalent to driving 3600 miles. The NCAA guidelines limit live practices to a maximum two a week, plus there are games. So, probably the weekly danger is about equivalent to 8000 miles per week, or 1140 per day. That's way more than people drive, except in exceptional circumstances. According to numbers I saw online, a truck driver legally maxes out at around 3400 miles per week, which is less than half of the danger to a football player, while a NYC taxi driver averages around 180 per shift (= day?). I suppose there are people who might commute 100 miles each direction five days a week--a crazy commute, but perhaps the necessities of providing for one's family might necessitate this--but even that is only an eighth of the weekly injury danger for football players.

It would, I think, be imprudent to regularly undergo the danger of driving 8000 miles per week, unless it was needed to feed one's family or the like.

Two more comparisons:
- By sheer injury rate, a football exposure is equivalent to about 1100 miles of driving on a motorcycle. (But I suspect the motorcycle injuries are much worse.)
- A football exposure is injury-rate equivalent to about 140 sessions on an indoor climbing wall. Even if we only count the concussions in the football exposures, and count ALL indoor climbing injuries, the football is about ten times as dangerous per session.

Heath White said...

I have now read _Billion Dollar Ball_ and it is discouraging from an educational perspective although not for reasons that have anything to do with injury. So what follows is a little off topic from the original post.

The modern financial model of football is that it is a free-standing entertainment business under the umbrella of a university. For about 60 schools, it is a gigantic moneymaker. The money funds the athletic department (football primarily, and other sports) but generally does not get kicked back to the educational side of the university. For another 60 schools (the rest of Division I), who wish they could get on the gravy train, football is a money-loser in the millions.

The rest of the universities in the US have a quite different philosophy of sports, more like “sound mind in a sound body,” and there is much less money sloshing around. Also, ironically, they tend to have more varsity athletes: Princeton has about twice as many as UT Austin, with a student body a quarter of the size.

The big football universities get brand-recognition out of this arrangement, and benefit indirectly that way. But administration is mostly powerless to rein it in, because their donors and trustees are heavily invested in the football brand and would get rid of any administrator who messed with it.

The Congress feels the same way, passing special legislation to treat football-related expenses as tax-free charitable expenditures, when there is quite clearly a gigantic profit-making business being run.

At a large football school, educational qualifications for attendance are basically waived, and there is an army of special assistants, tutors, etc. to help them pass and stay eligible. There are football-friendly majors, classes and professors, so to an extent, qualifications for satisfactory educational performance are also waived or watered down.

I was left thinking that the best thing to do would be more honesty. Stop pretending the athletes are there to be students, stop pretending big-time football is anything other than mass entertainment, and stop pretending the whole thing is an educational endeavor deserving tax-free status. If universities want to run large sports businesses to build their brands, just do it and call it what it is. And then the other 90% of sports in US collegiate life can be run on the old model.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Heath brings up another point about college football, the same can be said of basketball, and that is the corruption of the sport itself. These are the two big money sports for schools. I agree with Heath. The days of the student athlete are pretty well done at the major university level.

I want to bring up another corruption that these big money sports create. That is of the moral fiber of the athlete. Many people trumpet things like football builds character. However, while I will not name schools, there is this case - a major university is looking at a promising football player. He would be ideal for the team, would be the asset that gets the team to a bowl berth. His on the field stats are impressive, and just as impressive is his police record. This is not the only case, where colleges are willing to overlook things like that. Other things that schools are willing to overlook is the academic cheating that goes on such as other students doing the homework and writing the papers for athletes. Football building character just becomes a big joke. A long time ago, when I was at the University of Michigan, I was told about a professor who had the following grading scale "A" is for Athlete, "B" is for boy, and "C" is for coed.

The worst thing about this big joke of college sports is this, only 5% or less of the athletes will get into the pros, and the rest have had little but a useless "education".

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Alexander R Pruss said...

Actually, while the concussion rate in football is much higher, the concussion rate in boys wrestling is pretty high. It's higher than boys soccer: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/cheerleading-safety-high-school-sports/