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Speech and Hearing Perspectives

The Super Bowl & CTE: A Moral Quandary?

Published February 8, 2016 10:48 AM by Speech Merion

By Tamer Abouras


First thing’s first: It’s safe to assume that most of us have heard the common tropes about the Super Bowl and its accompanying media circus. Everyone knows it’s a massive event with viewership exceeding the number of people who celebrate Christmas. The commercials and halftime show are as much of a draw as the game itself (and at least as entertaining half of the time), and the whole cumulative event is a reminder of just how high football rates in American culture these days.


Having supplanted (and then some) baseball as our favorite national sport, football makes news for plenty of good — or at least entertaining — reasons. Yet at the same time, issues related to the sport’s inherent violence and that violence’s direct relationship to traumatic brain injuries (TBI) such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) raises some deeply unsettling moral questions for those of us who watch the game from home.


In the past few months alone, we’ve discovered that the late Ken Stabler and Frank Gifford were suffering from the condition at the time of their respective deaths. Similarly the movie Concussion, based upon the story of Bennet Omalu, the doctor who first discovered CTE, came out over the holidays to wide release. And just last night, we watched an all-time great Denver Broncos defense slam Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton into the ground so many times, he ran to the wrong tunnel at halftime — leading many to wonder whether he’d been concussed.

SEE ALSO: Healthcare Tackles Concussion Dilemma

The bottom line is that one doesn’t need to have much medical expertise or background to recognize that the proverbial writing is on the wall for the NFL — these collisions are eventually going to lead to a question about the viability of the game itself. In a market economy, however, these decisions are often forced upon organizations by consumers. And that leads to a very interesting column appearing in USA Today just before the NFL's biggest game, entitled “Is it immoral to watch the Super Bowl?”


In the piece, author Tom Krattenmaker argues that football is a path out of poverty, a risky choice that fewer and fewer would make under more advantageous socioeconomic circumstances. “Juxtapose the sport’s massive spectator popularity with our growing knowledge of its dangers, and with the reality that most of the men playing in the NFL are black and/or from disadvantaged backgrounds, and you end up with a creepy feeling,” he said.


ADVANCE Opinion Poll: Are too many children being diagnosed with auditory processing disorders?

Citing his own abstinence from watching the game which began about three years ago, he continued, “But as the years pass, I suspect qualms like mine will start infiltrating more fans’ heads. More will begin to see the ways in which our football spectating resembles the “sport” perpetrated in The Hunger Games, albeit without the direct killing. More of us realize that what we take to be a ‘game’ that young men ‘play’ is actually not a game, but a path out of poverty pursued mainly by the desperate.”


So a few weeks removed from gathering together, gorging ourselves in a way that rivals Thanksgiving and watching the television event to end all television events, it’s probably worth keeping Krattenmaker’s words in mind, as well as those from The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin’s, who suggested in a similar column that the day is coming soon when we will ask ourselves just what we’re really watching every Sunday.

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