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Professor Says It Is Time To End Football In High Schools

Miami Herald
Miami-Dade high school football team.

In South Florida, high school football has seen a decline in participation amid growing health concerns. Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach recently shut down its program after the coach said they couldn’t get enough players to field a team.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost one in five high school footballplayers could be suffering from some form of brain trauma, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

Sundial asked parents if they would let their children play football and if they had concerns of brain trauma and CTE. 

Luis Matute from Dania Beach has a three-year-old son, and does not plan to let him play. "It is an exclusive game set up to allow kids and young men to sacrifice their bodies, minds and health for entertainment," he wrote. "It is particularly exploitative of minorities. This is a brutal game that punishes the body tremendously."

Moises Egozi from Weston Florida has three boys, ages 12, 18 and 21. They all wanted to play, but he did not approve. "It's about MONEY," he wrote, "not the kid's health and development."

And a ninth-grade teacher from Miami-Dade County spoke out against a new football team at her school, choosing to remain anonymous. She wrote: "I am tired of seeing students airlifted to trauma centers due to football concussions. I don't want it for my sons. I've seen too many students with very bad concussions."

Professor Randall Curren from the University of Rochester co-wrote a paper published in the Harvard Educational Review challenging school districts to end their high school football programs. Curren believes it is ethically wrong to have football in schools when it is the job of schools is to protect students. He joined Sundial to defend his point.

WLRN: Why do you believe we must end football in high school?

Curren: School sponsorship of football is incompatible with the basic mission of schools as educational institutions.

How would you sell [schools] on this idea? 

For 20 years I taught courses in education ethics and my classrooms were full of teachers and coaches and school administrators. My job is to get them to recognize a serious ethical issue when it's staring them in the face. We are conditioned by what is normal around us to be blind to these things. Right now football is extremely popular. It's hard for some people to imagine life without it, but try to imagine life without it for a while and I think any honest person will recognize that we're going to find a lot of other things to do. Football is not the only great human invention that's ever come down the pike. There are other great ways to spend our time that we can all enjoy together that are less dangerous for kids brains.

Are you saying that educators have a responsibility to protect students? And you think that football is counter to what their job is?

So there are two distinct considerations. One, educators have custodial responsibility for kids. Also they are the agents of the state in public schools and have a special burden that's incumbent on all parts of government to protect children's safety their welfare and their development. Sponsoring an activity that is admittedly attractive to a lot of people, they're engaging students in a sponsored activity where the students are just doing what the coaches tell them to do and are suffering a lot of traumatic brain injury. It is a failure of the custodial responsibility of educators to sponsor these programs.

Is it a matter of looking at any activity that would put a child at risk or is it just the focus of football?

Football is a violent sport. The collisions are intrinsic to the game. I don't think there's any way you could modify football to make it safe for the brain. Could you modify other sports where there is some brain injury? I guess it's an open question. In soccer, it's the headers. In hockey, it is the contact aspects of it that make it similar to football. I suppose you could change the rules of those games possibly to make them less hazardous for the brain. But that's an open question, what the breadth of athletic activities is that carry this level of risk.