My childhood Friday nights were spent at the high-school football stadium, my grandmother ringing her cowbell for the boys she had fed pizza and peanut brittle hours earlier with other booster-club ladies. Mom and Dad bought season tickets to my future college alma mater when I was 7, and fall Saturdays thereafter were filled with trips down the interstate, tailgating, and studying the diagrams of referee signals in the program. My love of football has only grown since then; I once jumped up and down so hard watching a touchdown at home that the burglar alarm went off. But I also know this: If one day I have a child who wants to suit up, I will be terrified—and the effects of football on the brain, detailed by two Purdue engineers in “Damage Control” this month, is just one reason why.
Concussions have been in the news a lot lately. A group of former college players is putting together a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA alleging that the organization’s regulations—and only-recent moves to study the long-term effects of head in-juries—are too little too late. In response, the NCAA maintains that its current rules, equipment standards, and medical practices are sufficient. The NFL, of course, is not exempt from ire, either: More than 4,500 former players and families settled a suit against the league over the same issue. But it wasn’t the consequences of concussions that caused my jaw to drop when looking over the Purdue research—it was the cumulative effect on the brain of everyday gridiron hits. With their new helmet lining, the Purdue engineers hope to one day be able to prevent that damage.
Back in the summer, CBS Sports’s MaxPreps site named its top 10 metro areas for high-school football, and Indy ranked No. 3 in the country. Yes, you read that right—the talent at Lawrence Central, Cathedral, and other schools was enough to boost us ahead of the likes of Houston and Atlanta. The fact that some degree of neural harm seems likely, from the time these kids first learn to tackle, leaves me conflicted. I don’t want to give up the game—and I’m guessing the players don’t want to, either. But they need to be protected. That’s something that we, the fans, can get behind. And the NCAA should, too.
Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue.