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Football safety more important than glory

| Monday, November 10, 2014

With the annual turn to fall colors and cooler weather, many come to campus with their children, toss the pigskin on the quad, listen to the band play on the steps and cheer on the Irish in the stadium. With recently reported research in mind and troubling stories about grave injury and early death on the gridiron, however, some of these same parents will have conversations with their sons in the near future and come to the conclusion that participation in football should be limited, or that they may not play the sport at all.

When will Notre Dame have this conversation about its own loyal sons?

Notre Dame is now investing greatly in its football program but not enough in comprehensive efforts to determine football’s safety. To build one of the nation’s largest football stadiums with but a minor commitment to examine and educate regarding the risks and consequences of the gridiron is to punt our true identity. As a Catholic research institution with a tremendous football legacy, the University has a triple responsibility to openly investigate the problems facing football safety. Notre Dame was founded for the open pursuit of truth via many disciplines, is dedicated to the defense of God-given human dignity and has benefited more than any other university from the sport.

Here are a few preliminary questions.  Should an independent body of scientists and ethicists be created at the University, or in cooperation with experts at other institutions, to develop policies and practices that account for up-to-date evaluations of football’s risks? How much of football’s revenue at Notre Dame is dedicated to advancing our knowledge about the sport’s dangers and ways to reduce them?  How can Notre Dame use its prominent position to help parents, legislators and leaders in education make informed decisions about adolescents and adults playing football? How should coaches and faculty counsel athletes regarding this developing understanding? How will the University support the care of those whose health conditions could have been produced in part by playing for the Fighting Irish? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how could an independent determination be made as to whether the sport is safe to continue the way it is now at Notre Dame?

Without a great commitment to open and independent inquiry across the University for the benefit of many, we risk being unmasked as a community that cares mostly about tradition, entertainment and profit. We risk that many more athletes will suffer from preventable long-term injuries. Our players, alumni and children deserve answers to the questions that now huddle around football. We could continue to punt, or we could lead, championing our vocation as a Catholic research university to protect human dignity.

Richard Klee

Doctoral Candidate

Department of Theology

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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