Are Football Injuries Ethical?

September 16, 2014

After years of disputing evidence that its players experienced higher-than-normal rates of severe brain damage, the National Football League has at last stated in federal court documents that nearly 1/3 of retired players are expected to develop long-term cognitive problems. The NFL has agreed to pay an unlimited amount in rewards to players suffering injuries and diseases linked to football-related head trauma.

 

Public questions about the NFL’s obligations and liability will sound familiar to bioethicists. Do individuals have the right to choose risk and injury? How do structural and organizational forces subtly and directly coerce individuals into making harmful choices? Do profit motives obligate stakeholders to provide certain protections? Is financial compensation enough to right past wrongs?

 

The role of physicians and other medical caretakers in the culture of American football should give us pause, as well. Is a doctor who patches up a hopeful young football player to send him back on the field truly fulfilling the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence?

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Theo Schall

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