Change rarely happens at the top, even in sports.
Ask the NBA, where the three-point arc was not introduced until 1979, a dozen years after its use by the upstart American Basketball Association. In baseball, some minor league contests feature a pitch clock to help speed up the game, and this trial run is being used to inform potential MLB rule changes down the road.
It’s precisely due to this history that gives the Ivy League’s pending decision to ban tackling in football practices, as reported on Tuesday in The New York Times, such weight — but there is still more to be done.
Though the eight Ivy League schools haven’t won a national championship in football since the era of leather helmets, nor do they contend for the best recruits or the top coaches in the country, the news that the Ancient Eight will follow Dartmouth’s lead by forbidding full-contact hitting in practice is a huge step. It makes the Ivy League the first conference in the country to stop tackling and to recognize the concussion epidemic for what it is: a threat to football and a threat to general human wellness.
In the fall of 2014, I helped edit a three-part series on concussions at Yale, and what we found was disturbing. Student-athletes with concussions reported “always [having] a headache” in social situations, not remembering having finished tests, lasting insomnia, not being able to look at a computer screen. These aren’t simply injuries that hamper one’s playing ability — they severely impact one’s life.
It should be noted that the Ivy League has already made strides in reducing concussions, as it already possesses among the NCAA’s strongest limits in full-contact practices.
But this additional step demonstrates commitment and concern toward student-athletes beyond the norm. And if Football Bowl Subdivision conferences start pursuing these rules as united leagues — thus diminishing the competitive disadvantage of individual programs in installing such regulations — coaches can truly embrace caring about the well-being of their players.
Thank you, Ivy football coaches, for agreeing that this just makes sense. But let’s also realize that this is by no means the finish line.
Players need to be educated on the dangers of concussions from a young age. Independent doctors, hired by conferences rather than schools, should be at every game, evaluating players and dictating whether they can return to action. More research must be conducted on the dangers of head injuries, especially in the NFL.
The NFL has a long history of covering up concussion risks. A class-action lawsuit was settled last year with thousands of retired players receiving up to $5 million each for head trauma-related injuries and diseases. On the big screen, Will Smith’s “Concussion” debuted this winter and educated many fans on the dangers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that has been found in the brains of scores of deceased NFL players.
Despite that, football remains as popular as ever, with no signs of slowing down. And with the vast sums of money available to professional players, it could take a lot to convince many from pursuing gridiron glory. And for top-tier college programs that essentially act as pseudo-professional teams, no incentives currently exist to sacrifice money or the level of play in exchange for player safety.
That is why the Ivy League’s step Tuesday was so crucial and why other conferences need to follow suit. We must protect players, not only on the field, but also from head trauma that can destroy their entire lives, long after they’ve played their last down.
Change starts at the bottom. Let’s hope the Ivy League’s initiative reverberates all the way to the top.
Grant Bronsdon is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and a former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .