In the wake of increasing publicity about concussions sustained by football players, bioethicists are debating whether public school tackle football programs should be banned. According to some bioethicists, students under age 18 cannot give informed consent because the human brain is not fully developed before then. In addition, bioethicists cite concerns about pressure from student football player’s parents to succeed so that they may become professional athletes. Furthermore, coaches and doctors may not have the best interests of the player at heart since they are torn between putting the player’s health first and maximizing the interest of the “football industry.” Risks faced by young players, according to Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first identified Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in football players, include “major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life [and] drug and alcohol abuse as the child enters his 20s, 30s and 40s.” As a result, some bioethicists believe that “primordial prevention” efforts should be made to ban public support for high school football programs to remedy the “environmental, economic, social and behavioral conditions, cultural patterns of living known to increase the risk of disease.” Such efforts include opposition to public support for bonds to build stadiums or athletic facilities for junior or senior high school football, but would allow for the continuation of private football programs.
Despite these concerns, support for public school football programs is deeply ingrained in American culture and the sport is a popular national past time. In addition, without such programs, students may not be able to earn additional credit for playing the sport, which may negatively impact some students.