Pope Center tackles college football’s brain injury problem

George Leef highlights at National Review Online a new Pope Center article focusing on colleges’ tepid response to evidence of brain injuries associated with football.

The possibility for long-run damage begins in high school and continues throughout college. What have colleges and the NCAA done in light of the mounting evidence that repeated concussions and milder “dings” can cause severe injury?

That is the subject of today’s Pope Center article by Stephanie Keaveney. She points to recent research at Boston University’s CTE Center showing that “even players who don’t exhibit any obvious signs of head trauma may be subjecting themselves to slow-developing, irreparable brain damage.” A class-action suit was brought against the NCAA over head injuries in 2011 and the case was settled in 2014, with the NCAA setting up a $70 million fund for monitoring football players and a much smaller amount ($5 million) for research into this problem. Furthermore, the NCAA has put forth a set of guidelines regarding head injuries, but they amount to nothing more than suggestions. Infractions carry no penalties and Keaveney points to a study showing that “universities still act outside the protocols on a regular basis.”

The one conference that has apparently taken some meaningful steps in this regard is the Ivy League. Good for the Ivies, but the problems are more severe in conferences where you have really gigantic players bashing into each other. Big football conferences wouldn’t put themselves at any competitive disadvantage just to minimize the prospects of long-term injury to players.

Keaveney rightly concludes, “College exists to improve minds, not damage them.”

Why might universities ignore clear risks associated with their most high-profile athletic activity? Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gilbert Gaul‘s recent book might offer some clues.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...