Intelligence Squared recently hosted a debate about banning college football. If you'd like to watch the two-hour debate, you can find that video here.
Best-selling authors Malcolm Gladwell, Buzz Bissinger and Tim Green and sports columnist Jason Whitlock debated the argument to ban college football. Gladwell and Bissinger were arguing for the ban from a multitude of areas, while Green and Whitlock worked on proving the sport should be reformed but not abolished.
The debate was spirited: quips being thrown around; Bissinger yelling out random numbers and the like. Ultimately, the side pushing to ban college football won, as they picked up more votes from the audience after the debate concluded.
While there were a lot of interesting takes, the part of the debate that got washed over was likely the most critical to understanding the dangers of football. Malcolm Gladwell made the astute point that concussions are merely a small part of the problem. Overall, the head injuries that people should be concerned about are the day-to-day, run-of-the-mill, repetitive blows to the head that most people do not even notice.
You see, concussions are the massive brain traumas. They result in your favorite athlete being knocked out, staggering, becoming dizzy, having headaches, vomiting and what have you. College football is doing a great job of identifying these blows and parking those players on the bench, taking their helmets and ensuring that they do not return to the game or to practice until all of the symptoms are gone.
The more I read about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the less these big concussions scare me. Those get handled correctly. As Gladwell points out, it is the continuous small blows to the brain that are creating the damning evidence being found in the brains of former football players.
CTE, as it is called, is not the product of massive concussions, rather it is borne through repetitive sub-concussive blows.
Should college football be banned?
Those little hits. The constant banging on the offensive and defensive line. The running back being tackled every play as he carries the ball over 200 times a season. The linebacker who is putting up 125 tackles. Those are not all concussions, but they are repetitive sub-concussive blows to the head that are the building blocks of CTE.
While I am not in favor of banning the game that I love, I do have legitimate worry from having played the game. Sure, I had concussions, but as the evidence proves, the true danger here is in the little hits that go unaddressed practice after practice, game after game, season after season.
That is the area where the most focus is needed. Monitoring blows to the head, limiting the amount of contact and pushing to learn more should be the goal. All of the talk about concussions is great. However, Gladwell's point on sub-concussive blows is what everyone who cares about the safety of the game should be setting their sights on figuring out.