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The conversation about football we don’t want to have

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/13/22

What changes are needed to be able to watch America's most popular sport without any moral qualms?

Every Sunday in the fall, you can find millions of families gathered around the TV or standing on the sidelines, watching football. It’s the most popular sport in America, and the culture of tailgating and cheering on your favorite team is an absolute blast. 

But as research helps us understand more about the effects of playing football on the brain, I can’t help feeling conflicted when someone turns on the NFL. 

We know now that the sport leads to outsized rates of serious head trauma and neurodegenerative disease in former football players. Ever since learning this, I can’t look at football the same way again.

“Is it really OK to watch this sport, to watch men’s brains being permanently damaged for our entertainment? Is it moral to watch football?” I keep thinking. But it’s hard to say it out loud. It’s hard to have this conversation. Who wants to be the buzzkill about such a widely beloved sport?

So I started by talking about it with my husband, an avid football fan. He pointed out that it’s not exactly like football is a lone wolf here. There are a number of beloved sports that are incredibly dangerous, even more dangerous than football, from mountain climbing and bull riding to skiing and surfing. 

For some reason, many people feel irresistibly drawn to participating in dangerous sports. Just as the U.S. has football, Canada has hockey, Australia has rugby, and Spain has running with the bulls! 

Football is such an entertaining and unifying game for so many people that it’s understandable why so many people want to keep watching and supporting it. But what would it take to be able to do so without any moral qualms?

One positive change is the recent change in the NFL’s concussion protocols, which has been called a “needed step for player safety.” This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the NFL will continue to implement more changes along these lines.

Football is a treasured tradition for so many families. Here’s hoping that continued positive change will make the game even safer for players, so that its millions of fans can enjoy all the fun of football without ethical concerns. 

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