Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Should parents forbid football?

I'm reposting some comments I left on this post:

The entire post and comment thread is high quality. 

steve said...
The objection to intramural football overlooks several issues:

i) What's the standard of comparison? On the one hand, there safer activities than contact sports like football. On the other hand, there are more dangerous activities than football.

Many boys are prone to high-risk behavior. Football can be a way of channeling their natural aggression in a less dangerous and destructive forum. It's not risk-free, but it has built-in safeguards.

By contrast, if you forbid football, that doesn't automatically reduce injury. In fact, that may magnify injury. Rambunctious boys will substitute a more dangerous activity, like gangbanging. By depriving them of the less dangerous alternative, they revert to a more dangerous activity.

ii) Apropos (i), given the popularity of football, if you ban it, that will foster an underground culture without the safeguards of regulation football.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), a few weeks ago I read part of Mark Twain's autobiography, where he talks about growing up in Hannibal. Every year, several Hannibal boys drowned in the Mississippi. That's because parents didn't teach them how to swim. They simply forbad them to play in the river.

But, predictably, boys ignored the prohibition. Learning how to swim doesn't guarantee that you won't drown. However, it's safer than not knowing how to swim. If they are going to do it anyway, is it not better to teach them how to swim?

iv) I'm not suggesting this applies to everything. If an activity is intrinsically wrong, then there's no duty to make it safe or safer. But you'd have to show that football is intrinsically wrong.

v) Finally, have you considered the possibility that as a philosopher, you overvalue the intellect to the detriment of other virtues?
September 16, 2015 at 11:05 AM  

steve said...
Thanks to Heath and Alex for your replies. Dagmara made some informative observations as well. Sorry for my belated response:

i) If a father can persuade his son to play a less hazardous sport, then that's clearly preferable. 

However, many boys are strongly drawn to team sports in general, and contact sports in particular. They won't accept tennis or fencing as a substitute. 

ii) Now, I'm not suggesting that parents should accede to whatever junior wants. But wise parents pick their battles. If junior has his heart set on playing football, and you forbid it, that can be a recipe for juvenile delinquency and teenage rebellion. So there are tradeoffs to consider. Is it worth burning bridges that can't be rebuilt? 

Most boys don't play football after high school. They don't have the talent for college football or pro football. So it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

iii) Paintball is a promising alternative. Good point! So is archery tag. 

iv) Indoor rock climbing may well be safer in the short term, but surely there will be a strong temptation to test his mettle against the real thing (outdoor rock climbing) once he leaves home. So I think that's more dangerous in the long-term. He will take the skills he learned in a controlled environment, then apply them to scaling cliffs. To my knowledge, that's far more hazardous given the combined risk of frequency and severity of injury.

v) I doubt boys view video games as an alternative to contact sports. Either they do both anyway or else they are nerdy kids only play video games instead contact sports (or vice versa). 

vi) Isn't the issue of brain damage related to cumulative concessions? What's the standard of comparison? Kids who quit after high school, or career football players? 

vii) I've read that concussions are quite common in soccer. Players accidentally colliding with each other. I imagine that would be potentially more damaging since they lack the protective headgear of football players. 

viii) Why single out football to the exclusion of other risky sports like lacrosse, ice hockey, martial arts, horseback riding, skateboarding, cycling, and motorbiking? What about spinal chore injuries in gymnastics, pole-vaulting, and high diving? What about skiing accidents? 

ix) I agree with Alex that when traditional older sports were developed, safety wasn't a primary concern. However, it's too late to turn the clock back. We can't forget what we know. Once it becomes entrenched, once it becomes wildly popular, we can't induce collective amnesia and make fans switch to something (allegedly) safer. The demand is there. 

x) Finally, when assessing comparative stats on rates of injury, is that percentage based on the popularity of the game or average incidence of injury per game?

For instance, far fewer people might be injured in horseback riding than football, even if horseback riding is riskier, simply because far fewer people ride horses than play football. What's the sample group? Do the stats separate those two elements?
September 23, 2015 at 12:07 AM  

The entire post and comment thread is high quality. 

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