Yikes. I’m probably going to get a lot of hate mail for this. But, hey.
I’m a Deering High grad. I’ve lived my whole life either attending, or at least checking on the results of, the ‘November classic’–the Deering-Portland Thanksgiving Day Football Game. It’s a blast every year–an awesome outing for the students and alumni for both schools. The 106th Turkey Day game is scheduled for November 23 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. The contest is thuddingly real, with chance streakers, icy fingers, the roar of the crowd, the crack of helmets.
Deering won the 1972 Turkey Day Game, 12-0. We made it to the state championship that year. But considering the stealthily growing and lingering legacy of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease created by brain trauma, we all lost.
I’m loyal to the Purple (Go Rams!). I’m a Patriots fan. But I’m no longer a big fan of football. When I read about the Boston University study where “CTE was found in 110 of 111 brains of dead NFL players studied, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association,” that was it for me. That means 99 percent of those players suffered from a disease featuring symptoms including “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues, and sometimes suicidal behavior.” Could some of the tweet-touted “ratings decline” of the NFL be due to the fact that some of the fan base is losing its taste for the violence that creates human time bombs?
Because this hits close to home, I call Dr. Peter Morrison, the Scarborough pediatric neurologist who’s affiliated with Maine Medical Center, to get his perspective.
Would you let your child play contact football?
“Short answer, no. I think we’re learning there’s a growing body of evidence, including the B.U. study, that football can really lead to brain injury.”
I ask Dr. Morrison, “Another issue is the use of prior football as a defense for later criminal acts. Is it all over when we realize that any criminal can disavow responsibility for murder because he or she played football once?”
“There was an op-ed in The New York Times about that last week.” [“Is C.T.E. a Defense for Murder?” NYtimes.com]
This is no Twinkie Defense, because this isn’t a temporary insanity call due to a sugar high. CTE is a disease without a cure and, at this time, without a treatment. On the liability sideline, the lawyer for Avielle Janelle Hernandez, daughter of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (who killed himself in prison in April while serving a life sentence for murder) has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the NFL. Hernandez, only 27, had Stage III CTE.
Maybe it’s time for football to no longer be sponsored by schools. Either schools are in the business of encouraging brain development…or they’re not.
But what about The Turkey Day Game? Aren’t crosstown rivalries still a cool way to blow off steam? Here’s an idea. Attend school plays instead, with Oscars presented for interscholastic competition. (I’ll never forget the 1972 team of Bernstein and Sulka in the Deering High production of West Side Story.) Or maybe we could fill Fitzpatrick Stadium with crowds watching state academic decathlons or an interscholastic version of So You Think You Know Maine.
There are better, less deadly, ways to compete. In the art film Footloose, the illustrious Kevin Bacon showed us the way. Maybe what Portland really needs big-time–Rams vs. Bulldogs–is a rockin’ dance-off!