An open letter to Mark Emmert, President of the University of Washington

September 16, 2010

Dear Mark,

As you know, the evidence is becoming clearer that football players have an increased risk of developing impact-related brain damage, which often becomes apparent after the players have retired. You may have seen former NFL tight end Nate Jackson’s post on Slate.com about how the football culture encourages behavior that is risky from a health standpoint. If not, I recommend it: http://www.slate.com/id/2266532/entry/2266549/.

In reading this article, I wondered to myself whether any meaningful changes will ever be made to the game such that players’ long-term health is better protected. And then it occurred to me that a really smart guy is about to start running the NCAA. Someone who understands the realities of the business side of football, but who also understands the importance of not abusing athletes for short-term gains. You.

I don’t know enough about football to know what rule changes would be most beneficial to players’ long-term health. I simply want to urge you think boldly when considering possible solutions. Perhaps if the NCAA shows leadership on this issue, the high schools and pros will follow suit. Wouldn’t it be great to leave the NCAA someday with a legacy of having reduced the risk of brain damage among current and future generations of players?


Gregory J. Crowther, Ph.D.
Department of Medicine
University of Washington


  1. Get rid of the Helmet! Sounds contradictory I know but, as Nate said, when you wear a helmet you tackle with your head. Here in Australia we play alot of Rugby Union and Rugby League. Head injuries are uncomon and there is no evidence of players suffering widespread, long-term brain damage. Why? Because players learn at a young age to tackle with their shoulder as the first point of impact, not their head.That helmet must also be responsible for a wide variety of other injuries to body parts with which it comes into contact.Tell those pussies to toughen up and get rid of the helmet. Teach them how to tackle too.

  2. I would have to agree with most of what Charlie says. It is a violent sport but then there is this wimpiness about it too due to all the pads and the helmet.But here is a different perspective. The head injuries being sustained in football are, for the most part, not seen for years. I was watching a bike race on DVD, the 1993 World Championship in Oslo, the year Lance Armstrong won as a 21 year-old. It was held in the pouring rain. At almost each turn there were crashes, sometimes involving a dozen riders or more at a time. Riders were dropping out like flies due to real injuries…broken collarbones, hips, wrists, contusions, etc. I thought to myself, if football saw this type of carnage during every game they would be forced to shut down the entire operation immediately, no question. And yet, they do worse…they slowly put every player in danger by slowly injuring them so that no one notices. And the game goes on.

  3. Greg,Thanks for the letter to the future head of the NCAA. Apparently, head trauma from football is suspected to have played a role in a Penn football player's suicide.http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/football/ncaa/09/13/penn.death.ap/index.htmlAgreed. Its time for the NCAA (and NFL) to immediately take the lead and craft policies to protect these players. Have to wonder what is happening to the brains of HS and younger football players, too.

  4. […] 1. Football puts participants’ brains and bodies at great risk (as discussed previously on this blog and in the excellent Frontline news documentary League of Denial). 2. My interest in people’s […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: