The Super Bowl and the Brain

Why watching the NFL, and the big game, is getting increasingly uncomfortable for learning nerds.

February 4, 2018

Did any of you not watch the Super Bowl?

I watched the game.

I’m actually a fan of watching pro football on TV.  A practice, that in the face of all the medical evidence about the devastating health consequences faced by NFL players, has become an ever more guilty (or shameful) pleasure.

So I’m interested in anyone who has decided that they can no longer be a fan of a professional sport that does so much damage to the brains and bodies of its players.

Are learning geeks, those of us seek to translate the science of learning to teaching practices in postsecondary education, any more likely to walk away from the NFL?

An article in the Washington Post this past weekend on the health of the players on the 1973 Super Bowl Redskins team provided some sobering quotes.

“...the NFL has conceded it expects almost a third of its retired players to develop cognitive problems at “notably younger ages” than the rest of the population…”

“… [a] Boston University researchers have found CTE in 99 percent of the brains from deceased NFL players that they have studied..”

It is getting increasingly hard to square our identities as educators and our enthusiasm for brain science, with our willingness to give professional football our attention.

At some point, some number of us will make the decision that we can no longer participate as spectators in a sport where player brain damage is the inevitable outcome of how the game is played.

Clearly, however, we are not at that point yet.  Most of my crowd of learning nerds will have watched the Super Bowl.

Some of us may talk to each other about feeling a bit hypocritical about watching the Super Bowl while being worried about the long-term physical and cognitive consequences of the sport for NFL players.  But the spectacle of the Super Bowl, and fact that professional football seems perfectly designed for watching on TV, will have overcome our ethical qualms about viewing the game.

Any educators, learning nerds, and brain science geeks out there who have walked away from the NFL and the Super Bowl?


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