Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Two steps nearer a football-free campus

By Malcolm Potts

Eventually, hell has frozen over. Jeff Miller, the National Football League senior vice president for health and safety policy, has told members of Congress that playing American football can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The NFL has switched from the criticizing the research of medical scientists who demonstrated that playing football can scramble a young man's brain and lead to dementia and premature death, to acknowledging the relationship. (See Ken Benson and Alan Schwarz, "N.F.L.’s U-Turn on Concussions Changes the Game," New York Times, March 15, page 1.)

Some commentators see this as a sly policy to defend the NFL against lawsuits. Players may find it more difficult to sue the NFL now it is telling them that the relationship between football and CTE is genuine. Perhaps UC Berkeley would be well advised to withdraw campus support for football as a step towards defending against the legal cases by past players that are highly like to arise in the future.

The second step toward a football-free campus is new evidence that watching football games can correlate with a significant jump in gender-based violence. A study by Jason Lindo and colleagues, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at campus and law-enforcement data on the rape of 17 to 24 year old women. They found a starling 41 percent jump following watching Division 1 home games and a 15 percent rise after away games. (See NBER Working Paper No. 21828, "College Party Culture and Sexual Assault," Dec. 2015)

Recent media reports underscore how easy it is for young men engaged in team sports to behave in unacceptably and horrifying ways, unless they are carefully supervised. Conestoga is a small town in Pennsylvania. Members of the high school basketball team assaulted one of their team mates with a pool cue in such a vicious way he needed surgery to repair the injuries to his rectum and bowel. (See Juliet Macur, "In High School Hazing, Where Are the Adults?," New York Times March15, page B9.)

I am not suggesting that the obscenities occurring in Conestoga are going to happen on our campus. However, I do take the Lindo study of the party culture associated with watching football seriously.  If one female student at Berkeley is subject to coercive sex, or even sexually harassed, because testosterone-filled young men have been watching a football game, it is one too many.

Broken bones mend, damaged brains do not heal. Enough is enough. Sensible people need to mobilize to end Cal football. Doing away with football would also save money at a time of economic crisis. The football coaches’ salaries, benefits and bonuses would pay a lot of student fees.