The Maneater

Column: Football has no place at institutions of higher education

As new evidence highlights the major risks of brain injury, it’s time to abandon the game of football as we know it.

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Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Football is an integral part of the American college experience. The atmosphere of gameday lights and Tiger tradition is truly intoxicating. But beneath the allure hides a dark reality — and likely a troubled life ahead for many of MU’s athletes.

Concussions are no joke. In just three years of major college football between 2012 and 2015, 501 concussions were publicly reported, according to data collected by Al Jazeera. Beyond that, in 2015, nearly half of college football programs neglected to publicly report concussions. Still, one-off concussions aren’t the biggest health concern facing college football players.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a condition related to repeated blows to the head, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. CTE has been linked to other brain conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, erratic behavior, depression and suicidal thoughts, but the condition can only be diagnosed after death.

Tragically, numerous CTE sufferers have taken their own lives.

The science is still relatively new, but one study by Dr. Ann McKee found that of 50 former college football players tested, 41 had CTE. In a similar study of 111 former NFL players, 110 had CTE, 99 percent.

The longer one plays football, the higher their potential for serious brain damage.

However, there is no evidence to suggest a single concussion can increase CTE risk, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers suspect CTE is likely to occur after repeated traumatic brain injuries, such as those found day-in and day-out on the football field. The primary drivers of CTE may not even cause an individual to lose consciousness.

While the number of diagnosed concussions is concerning, the undiagnosed damage caused by smaller incidents is even more alarming. For every diagnosed concussion of former college football players, there were six suspected concussions and 21 smaller “dings” to the head, according to a study by Harvard University and Boston University. All told, 26 in 27 head injuries go undiagnosed.

It’s time to fully realize the situation. Football is killing people.

It may seem like a fun day out to watch a Tigers game at Faurot Field, but football is violent. The stakes are high, and lives can be ruined. It may seem extreme, but the evidence is overwhelming.

If major, sweeping reforms cannot be made to the game, football should not be played.

Better helmet technology and incremental rule changes would only be a band-aid solution. Overhauling the game to more resemble flag football could be the only way to save it.

Universities are first and foremost institutions of higher education. The game of football is in direct contradiction to that ideal. Degrading brain condition and mental functions at the expense of cheap entertainment should be scorned by the academic community.

The irony should not be lost on anyone. While MU is intended to foster a culture of academic success and intellection, its implied championing of brain damage and CTE is unacceptable. This goes for any college or university fielding a football team.

It’s worth mentioning football isn’t the only sport with potential for brain damage. Many sports, including hockey, cheerleading and boxing, have a history of concussion problems, as well.

Women’s sports in particular seem to be plagued by concussions. Female athletes across different sports are more likely to be diagnosed with concussions when compared to male athletes, according to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Women’s ice hockey is one of the most dangerous sports one can play, with a diagnosed concussion rate higher than that of men’s football.

Concussions are different from longer lasting damage that causes CTE, however. Most are able to fully recover from mild concussions in about seven to 10 days, according to Healthline. Still, concussions are serious injuries and should not be downplayed. Post-concussion syndrome can haunt sufferers for years after the initial incident.

We still don’t know everything about brain injuries due to the complex and long-lasting effects. It is clear, however, that violent sports, such as football, do not belong in an educational environment.

College football has a strong culture around it, but so did Roman gladiator fights. It’s time to fully realize the situation. Football must reform in major ways, or universities should look at eliminating the programs altogether.

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