In an interview, Ditka admitted to realizing that the sport was far too hazardous, calling its long-term effects on the brain devastating and claiming, “the risk is worse than the reward.”
Ditka is not the first person to criticize football’s brutality. Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell has compared the impact of an average football hit to crashing a car at 40 kilometres per hour into a brick wall and letting your head hit the dashboard. Citing that this impact occurs 30 to 40 times in a football game, Gladwell argues that no helmet can protect against repeated blows of that magnitude.
Even the NFL recently acknowledged that around one third of former players are expected to develop “long-term cognitive issues” and at a strikingly younger age than the rest of the population.
I see no problem with grown men and women playing professional tackle football and being handsomely compensated for it, just as I see no problem with anyone who willingly works any hazardous job. What I do take issue with, however, is college football.
In the 2013–14 fiscal year, the Canadian government provided $12.2 billion – nearly five cents per tax dollar — to post-secondary institutions and social programs. Additionally, the majority of the University of Saskatchewan’s yearly operating budget comes from provincial grants.
Likewise, student fees at the U of S this year include a charge of $39.27 each term for athletics. While this money is allocated to all Huskie Athletics programs on campus, football is one of the bigger ones.
Since the university operates thanks to considerable tax assistance, the public should not be footing the bill for what is ultimately a very harmful and hazardous activity. Similarly, as university students seeking a higher education, we should not be funding a spectator sport where concussions are next to inevitable and long-term brain damage and cognitive disability are rampant consequences.
I understand that playing for the Huskies is not a one-way ticket to playing professional football — far from it. Four years of football at a university level would certainly not be as damaging in the long run as an entire career’s worth of play. That said, four seasons of 10 or so games in each would still involve enough hits to do serious lifelong damage to one’s brain.
It comes down to a simple logic: an institute of higher learning should not be encouraging any recreational activity this hazardous, nor should it be furthering young men on a path towards such a dangerous profession.
Once again, I recognize that for many players college football is just a pastime. For many students, it’s also a means to learn teamwork and life skills and to keep physically active. While these are all legitimate and realistic benefits of playing football, they are far from exclusive to the sport. There’s just as much to gain from Huskies basketball or soccer and far less to sacrifice mentally.
It’s a matter of safety. Students’ and taxpayers’ money should not be supporting a university sport that is inextricably connected to young men hitting their heads and receiving concussions.
In truth, the same arguments against tackle football in universities are applicable to public high schools as well. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with someone wanting to be paid to play football if they understand and accept the risks involved. However, when educational institutions are using funding and student fees to set people on a path towards brain damage, we deserve better.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah / Graphics Editor