In medicine, decision making constantly balances risks and benefits, the knowns with unknowns. As a physician, my commitment is to prevent injury and damage and make sure that people live as long, happy, and pain-free a life as possible. Sadly, when it comes to football and other contact and collision sports, the risks can outnumber the benefits, the knowns of injury exceeding the unknowns of potentially other benefits. Like my colleagues who study the brain, I think that it is time to stop the carnage that football is inflicting on the bone and joints of its participants.
Coach Amundson, the coach at the helm of my high school’s football team, used to fill his pep talks with aphorisms like, “Only the game fish swim upstream,” or, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” One of my favorites was, “When the Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he asks not whether you won or lost but how you played the game.”
Coach Amundson was old school in his attitudes and is long dead. While we all used to chuckle about his homespun philosophy, he taught important lessons in life. He was right about Judgment Day. I believe that, if the Great Scorer asks the medical profession how we are preventing the devastation of football injury, he would decide that, not only are we losing the game, but, sadly, we are playing it badly.
Dr. Pisetsky is physician editor of The Rheumatologist and professor of medicine and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.