Local Commentary

Editorial: Develop Minds, Then Smash Them?

What sense does it make to spend so much time and effort every year to develop the minds of young people so they can go on to enjoy meaningful and productive lives, only to elevate an exercise that stands far too much of a real chance of turning those minds into mush?

The powerful and sobering film in theaters this week, “Concussion,” speaks to this issue (see commentary, elsewhere this issue).

“Concussion” is the true story about the discovery of advanced “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE) in the brains of many former professional football players, a condition leading to dementia, psychotic episodes and compulsive self-destructive behavior by middle age. But it can only be actually diagnosed by a post mortem autopsy.

But we would argue that the real subject of the film is not at the level of professional football, including the National Football League’s efforts to cover up this phenomenon. Instead, it is at the level of youth football, including high school football.

Even the film, as powerful as it is, seems to qualify its message by suggesting that the game, itself, should not suffer from revelations about CTE. It even suggests that players only need to be told the full range of risks, including contracting CTE, ahead of time. Of course, who coming out of inner city poverty would not be willing to take that risk for a few lucrative years in the NFL? Yet once the CTE begins to manifest itself, the outcomes are often so horrible that suicide is seen as the only relief.

It is also unclear at this point to what extent foggy headedness, so to speak, manifests itself as a likely early symptom of the condition, impairing efforts at learning and an aspiration to achieve.

The evidence is clear on this matter. The human brain floats in a liquid inside the cranium, and it has no insulation against blows that cause it to slam against its skull. When this happens over and over, the preconditions for CTE occur. No one blow has to be so traumatic as to manifest a concussion, in fact. It’s the accumulation of all the small even undetectable blows that leads to CTE.

There is no other sport where this is likely to occur on every play in every practice and game as in football. Sports are wonderful when their focus is on physical fitness and the development of constructive traits of perseverance, striving and sportsmanship. Whereas injuries are natural consequences of any sport, no other sport subjects its participants so routinely to the dangers of permanent brain damage like football.

So, the question remains: What is any school system that takes itself seriously in the development of young minds doing playing football?

Every member of the Falls Church School Board and the schools’ administration should see “Concussion.” A task force should be formed to look seriously at this matter, optimally with football suspended pending its conclusions.