Steve Chapman is a syndicated writer whose columns appear in the Chicago Tribune among some 60 papers across the country. He is a graduate of Harvard (Class of 1976), where he was on the staff of the student paper, the Harvard Crimson.
In a column distributed this past weekend, he accused Yale and Harvard of “knowingly exposing their young charges to the serious risk of permanent incapacitating neurological injuries.”
He wonders “How many students’ brains have to be wrecked before they decide to stop?”
Without going into the merits of his views, it is interesting to note that, although he could have made his pitch on any day of the year, he chose to come out with it on or about November 18th. That happened to be the date Yale and Harvard met in the Yale Bowl.
The 24-3 win by the Bulldogs generated more media coverage, including national television (CNBC), than the rivalry has had in many years. Chapman may have cared little about what the score would be or who would win since his viewpoint was printed in papers and posted online within a day or two before The Game took place.
His point that it never should take place, or continue to be played in the future, became more relevant because it was made at a time almost simultaneous with this year’s kickoff.
It’s all about CTE
The writer’s reasoning is based on the growing controversy over the long-range effects of concussions suffered by football players, many of which result in CTE, a condition with the medical name of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
CTE is an incurable terminal disease that is claimed to cause “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and eventually progressive dementia” (Concussion Legacy Foundation).
Why Yale and Harvard?
Among all the football games being played on all levels, why did he single out Yale and Harvard?
His rationale was that “Harvard and Yale are among the premiere educational institutions in the world. They have spent centuries at the task of strengthening and elevating young minds. But on Saturday, Nov. 18, they will join together in a ritual guaranteed to damage young brains.”
He accuses Harvard Yale of being “oblivious to growing evidence that concussions do “grave and irreversible harm to mental functioning.”
He asked, “How many students’ brains have to be wrecked before they decide to stop?”
A study of the brains of 202 deceased football players by neurologists at Boston University found markers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 99 percent of NFL veterans and 91 percent of those who played only through college. Chapman claims.
Skeptics, he said, take the position that the brains are unrepresentative because they were already suspected of being affected.
4,740 college football concussions a year
Citing a Yale economics professor, Ray Fair, who he said documents an average of 4,740 concussions each year in college football, the columnist asked how Yale and Harvard “rationalize a pastime so antithetical to the well-being of undergraduates and their own educational missions?” He equates college football to the Mayo Clinic operating a tobacco shop on-site.
In 2016 the Ivy League banned live tackling in practice after Harvard had already done so. There are also recent rule modifications for kickoffs and touchbacks to reduce risks.
He compares those changes to “advising alcoholics to cut back.”
Yale-Harvard football is safe – for now
Despite what Chapman may wish for, there are probably no thoughts of taking the drastic step of eliminating football at Harvard or Yale, at least in the immediate future. Otherwise, why would Yale have just replaced broken and deteriorated wooden benches and given them fresh coats of paint in time to accommodate some of the 50,000-plus crowd in the Bowl this past Saturday? Certainly not for just one game.
If it should ever happen that football will stop being played in the Yale Bowl, will it ever again attract an attendance of that size to watch something else? Or will touch football become popular?