Harvard Crimson sophomore sports columnist Sam Koppelman has sparked a national debate about the future of football, arguing that high schools, colleges, and universities, including Harvard, should do away with the sport due to the long-term effects of concussions and brain trauma.

That’s an interesting opinion from a student who attends a university that has won 21 consecutive football games.

“I definitely didn’t make the most friends I’ve ever made this week, but my classmates definitely had some interesting responses,” Koppelman said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “A bunch of them were angry. I know the football team itself didn’t necessarily receive it the best, but a lot of people have stated talking about it. And a lot of players from the football team have come out and said, ‘Yeah, this is something we need to worry about. We are getting injured.’ It’s tough when your team has won 21 straight games to tell them they should shut it down.”

According to Koppelman’s research, 70 percent of athletes with concussions play through symptoms, 40 percent never tell their coaches about symptoms, and 50 percent of concussions that occur in high school students occur during football.

Those are staggering numbers.

Koppelman, though, is also able to speak from first-hand experience, as he endured multiple concussions in high school.

“When I had my concussions, I was out of school for weeks,” he said. “I was super upset, in a constant malaise and it really affected me personally. I think what’s even worse for football players, while they definitely don’t report all their concussions – only 1 in every 27 hits to the head is reported – I think what ends up happening is they get hit in the head basically every practice, basically every game, in these sort of small ways. Offensive and defensive linemen hit heads almost every play. Helmets are used as a weapon.”

Koppelman did acknowledge that there are many positive social, psychological and educational benefits to being on a football team, but he wonders if the good outweighs the bad.

“If it’s going to keep you out for weeks at a time – (and you’re) not able to do your schoolwork, not able to do your reading, not even able to get the social benefits of college, which is hanging out with your friends – (that’s not good),” he said. “What ends up happening is football players end up not getting any of the things they’re supposed to out of college other than the degree, and they’re basically being taken advantage of by the institution and put through all this grueling physical and emotional agony basically to sort of entertain the rest of the school.”

Koppelman has received some backlash for his stance and said the university newspaper is publishing a rebuttal to his argument. Still, he’s taking it all in stride.

“It’s starting a conversation,” he said. “I think that’s what journalism and writing is all about.”


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