Talking about Brain Damage at a Thursday Night Football Game
This is Lew Margolis.
The Thursday night football game in Chapel Hill may seem like ancient history, but as a teacher of public health and as one unsettled by the risks of brain trauma inherent in the game of football, my own experience continues to reverberate. For the game, I hand-lettered a sign asking, “How much brain damage from football is o.k.?” and then meandered among the fans gathering around the entrances to the stadium for an hour or so before the kickoff. No bullhorn, no flyers, just a sign that asked a thought-provoking question, given that football accounts for 70% of the sports-related concussions in males, which translates into more than 55,000 concussions in high school football alone each year.
I enjoyed watching little kids slowly sound out the words on the sign and then turn to a parent to ask what the question meant. More than 20 people approached me to talk. Most of the conversations thanked me for speaking out. Former UNC football players recalling their drive to play while injured, a high school coach in conflict over trying to balance the head injuries from football with the seeming benefits of team work and fitness, several dads wondering about what to encourage in their 6 year old or 10 year old sons, and others who have simply been troubled by this harm, welcomed a chance to talk.
Another group of conversations involved those simply curious to learn more about this topic that has gained increasing attention in the media — the problem of football and brain injuries.
Other conversations, satisfyingly few, I should add, brought forth fans hoping for more brain damage on one team or the other on the playing field that night.
As a teacher, I was struck by the realization that the perfect lecture or the expertly crafted scholarly paper may not quite get people to think or to act in the same way as does the chance just to talk with one another. As I wandered through the crowd and so many reached out to me, it was as if simply carrying a sign with a wrenching question gave permission to enter into conversation. I’d like to think that these encounters sparked a fair number of discussions about brain damage and football the next day — and the next.
This is Lew Margolis.