Devon Chenelle | University of Notre Dame

Despite the modern west’s obsession with each new apocalyptic specter - be it global warming, tinpot nuclear regimes, or Mesoamerican prophecy - we’re actually doing pretty good against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, frequently identified as Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Though triumph over the last of these remains elusive, the other three riders have become rather impotent. A little famine would be great for our nation’s obesity rate, no Americans go to war unless they choose to do so, and vaccines and antibiotics have reduced contagious disease to a shadow of its former terror. Triumphant over these formidable killers, mankind’s attentions have turned towards the mitigation of danger in all his endeavors. Although efforts to totally sanitize, secure, and safeguard modern life proceed with unabated fury, evidence that pursuit of this noble quest often generates unforeseen negative side effects or profoundly diminishes the quality of the lives they are meant to protect should introduce doubts about mankind’s pursuit of a perfect world.

Moderns’ safety fixation has now reached football, sparking a national conversation about “fixing” the supposedly defective sport. There is even talk about “banning” the game amidst a growing number of parental attempts at virtue signaling by publicly declaring “they’d never let their sons play football.” The great majority of these concerns revolve around the concussion issue. People fear that football participation greatly increases one’s risk of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), notoriously found in the corpses of several prematurely dead NFL players. While these concerns are serious, they may be overblown: a 2012 Grantland article, Mere Mortals, found that NFL players live longer than the average individual, and also, shockingly, that NFL players have a lower mortality rate than their MLB counterparts. Of course, football’s concussion issue demands attention from athletes and advocates of the game, who have already adopted superior helmets and safer tackling techniques, but it may be less severe than the media hysteria implies.

The lesson is clear: we must accept some level of risk in everything we do and remain wary of the potential blowback of even our most well-intentioned choices. It is with those principles in mind that I proudly endorse the continuation of football as it exists today. I don’t think we would make a safer world by banning football, not least because similar ex-cathedra health initiatives have had decidedly mixed results, positive effects often balanced out by unforeseen negative consequences. 

Though it might be scary to expose ourselves to the unpredictable world around us, contact its potential dangers is the only way to fully develop as a person. Even if it were desirable to completely eliminate hazard, the inevitability of unintended consequences makes any such project a quixotic endeavor. Sure, football slightly increases life’s dangers, but accepting some level of risk is an unavoidable aspect of anything worth doing. For me, and many others, the level of risk engendered by football is vindicated by its cultural potency, with participation in our nation’s most beloved and distinct sport well-worth a stinger or two.

I conclude by quoting one of our most venerable national heroes, who said: “football, perhaps more than any other sport tends to instill in men the feeling that victory comes through hard — almost slavish — work, team play, self-confidence and an enthusiasm that amounts to dedication.” With benefits like that, we must allow individuals the choice to brave the game’s dangers so they might harvest its treasures.

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