Football is often seen as an invigorating sport for student athletes, but recent studies show that the sport carries an increased risk for a debilitating disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy—a disease caused by repeated trauma to the head which leads to the death of brain cells—has been found in the brains of NFL and college football players alike. Players with CTE showed signs of early-onset dementia, memory loss, inability to control strong emotions, impaired judgment, and many other harmful symptoms. Even minor concussions can have negative effects on memory retention and learning, and catching up while recovering can become an added struggle for student athletes, especially at a rigorous university like Columbia. Some might argue that technology has constantly been improving and football gear has gotten better at protecting players from injuries. However, research has shown that bigger and sturdier padding has paradoxically led to more brain injuries like CTE and more concussions in this inherently brutal sport.

The Ivy League prides itself on being the perfect blend of elite education and athleticism, but the chronic injuries and strict schedules of football players raises the question of whether football players are really athletes first and students second.

In addition to taking classes and completing homework assignments, football players often have practice once or twice a day and both home and away games on the weekend. To compensate for their lack of time to study and perform in the classroom, the minimum GPA that a student athlete has to maintain is a 2.0. The Ivy League began as a complement to the demanding class workload for students, but it now seems as though sports take precedence over the education and mental health of players.

As it stands right now, football is counterintuitive to the institution of higher education.

As someone who played several sports in high school, I am aware of the balancing act students have to perfect in order to succeed both in the classroom and on the field. Injuries and missed homework assignments come with the territory and push athletes to learn about self-care, time management, and how to rely on their teammates for support. Nonetheless, the types of mental injuries that football players sustain may pose a greater inconvenience to them than simply missing a class.

Ultimately, it is safe to say that football at Columbia will not be going anywhere for a while. I understand that the University and the players are both passionate about the game, and that the school receives a sizable sum from the revenue generated by the football team and its investors. Even so, I hope that the University will invest in supporting both the mental and physical health of its football players and in accounting for the long-term injuries that they might endure through their participation in the sport.

Football is often seen as an invigorating sport for student athletes, but recent studies show that the sport carries an increased risk for a debilitating disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy—a disease caused by repeated trauma to the head which leads to the death of brain cells—has been found in the brains of NFL and college football players alike. Players with CTE showed signs of early-onset dementia, memory loss, inability to control strong emotions, impaired judgment, and many other harmful symptoms. Even minor concussions can have negative effects on memory retention and learning, and catching up while recovering can become an added struggle for student athletes, especially at a rigorous university like Columbia. Some might argue that technology has constantly been improving and football gear has gotten better at protecting players from injuries. However, research has shown that bigger and sturdier padding has paradoxically led to more brain injuries like CTE and more concussions in this inherently brutal sport.

The Ivy League prides itself on being the perfect blend of elite education and athleticism, but the chronic injuries and strict schedules of football players raises the question of whether football players are really athletes first and students second.

In addition to taking classes and completing homework assignments, football players often have practice once or twice a day and both home and away games on the weekend. To compensate for their lack of time to study and perform in the classroom, the minimum GPA that a student athlete has to maintain is a 2.0. The Ivy League began as a complement to the demanding class workload for students, but it now seems as though sports take precedence over the education and mental health of players.

Elise Fuller is a junior in Columbia College majoring in anthropology. She serves as the Inclusion and Equity Representative for CCSC and the Campus Liaison for BSO. You can always find her in Café East discussing the nuances and diversity of bubble tea flavors.

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By ELISE FULLER
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Discourse & Debate: Is college football worth the risk?

Many studies have proven that the concussions suffered from football heavily affect brain development and function. With this in mind, is college football contrary to the mission of an institution of higher education? Despite its history as an athletic conference, should the Ivy League discontinue college football?

Isn’t it about time Columbia had some heroes? Sure—meme lords aren’t a bad start. And of course, most of us are proud of an abstract “Columbia University,” in all its prestige and history. But beyond that, I see few other faces able to inspire enthusiasm and pride in our university on a large scale.

Think about it. Out of the big names so often discussed in the pages of Spec, is there anyone Columbia doesn’t hate? Between President Bollinger, Debora Spar (RIP), Suzanne Goldberg, even Deantini at times, no one can catch a break. That is, until now.

Enter the titans of 218th Street, the hulks of the Hudson, the renewed glory of knickerbocker: the Columbia Lions football team, undefeated 5-0.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found my heroes.

In the football team’s victories this season—no, our victories—Ronald Smith II simultaneously received a 60-yard pass and a 300-pound linebacker to the face. Josh Wainwright literally jumped over another guy. Words do no justice to Wainwright. And no one can forget Oren “Golden Toe” Milstein. This is the stuff of legends. If you haven’t seen the video highlights of these games, sadbois of Columbia: Put your bubble tea down and get a real education.

But the Lions’ historic victories over Princeton and Penn were not just demonstrations of physical might or even mental stamina; they symbolize the revival of absolute domination—of the very essence of Columbia University in the City of New York. Allow me to demonstrate.

Both Princeton and Penn stand as clear foils to Columbia’s philosophy. Whereas Columbia boasts the most diverse student body in the Ivy League, Princeton’s legacy is that of quintessential WASP pedigree. (My great-uncle, the Jewish son of a stowaway from Hungary who arrived knowing no English, played varsity baseball while attending Columbia College in the 1950s. He recalls his disbelief at having been served lunch by black waiters sporting starched white jackets and gloves while visiting Princeton for an away game). And Penn, as the most pre-professional Ivy thanks to the Wharton School, contrasts with Columbia’s unique dedication to the liberal arts with the Core. Needless to say then, defeating institutions involved in such educational malpractice constitutes a truly virtuous act.

In the spirit of the classical pedagogy of Plato and Aristotle, Columbia must encourage the cultivation of a strong and healthy body to harmonize with the developing mind and soul. To this end, football can inspire us nerdier Columbians to get outside and get in shape, necessarily complementing PE requirements. A one-credit semester-long course merely affects the body. But wins over Princeton and Penn more permanently stir the soul.

One might argue that a sport that doesn’t virtually guarantee some level of permanent brain damage might better serve these inspirational and symbolic roles. However, in terms of sheer grandiosity (a necessary component of inspiration—just look at Low Library), football stands apart. The titanic athletes in their helmets and pads, the wide expanse of the stadium, the goalposts and lights scraping into the sky; for all this, I see no substitute.

Following the 1968 protests, Columbia’s donations, applications, and reputation all dropped to abysmal levels. And nothing better symbolized Columbia’s slump than a 44-game losing streak. But over the last decade, the University has risen again to its former glory—we’re near the top of the rankings with a $9 billion endowment and a new campus. It’s only fitting that football, the cultivation of the body and spirit, both symbolizes and inspires Columbia’s ascendancy in cultivating not merely the mind, but the whole person.

Isn’t it about time Columbia had some heroes? Sure—meme lords aren’t a bad start. And of course, most of us are proud of an abstract “Columbia University,” in all its prestige and history. But beyond that, I see few other faces able to inspire enthusiasm and pride in our university on a large scale.

Think about it. Out of the big names so often discussed in the pages of Spec, is there anyone Columbia doesn’t hate? Between President Bollinger, Debora Spar (RIP), Suzanne Goldberg, even Deantini at times, no one can catch a break. That is, until now.

Enter the titans of 218th Street, the hulks of the Hudson, the renewed glory of knickerbocker: the Columbia Lions football team, undefeated 5-0.

Joseph Siegel is a sophomore in Columbia College studying philosophy and economics. He will gladly argue with anyone at anytime about anything, including hand dryers, improper use of automatic doors, and seat belt laws. Joseph is on the boards of CUCR and CPU and resides in Jazz House.

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By JOSEPH SIEGAL
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The question at hand, like many other current controversies, revolves around the value of health. Living healthily has become the objective value anchoring our lives. Friendship is encouraged as a conduit to mental health, while doctors promote laughter as a tool of self-care. Such thinking is manifestly backwards. Human health serves a purely instrumental function—we take care of our bodies precisely so that we can engage in such worldly pleasures as pepper-crusted matjes or Macallan 25.

Of course, being healthy is important, but it is important like wearing socks is important. If we could do without those oppressive foot manacles and live all the same, we surely would.

We spend much of our lives balancing our desire for enjoyment with the restrictions that health unavoidably places upon that pursuit. People make peace with all types of arrangements. College students prefer the pleasures of binge drinking over its harmful effects on the brain and liver. Corporate types often succumb to the seductive aromas of the cigar, desiring its pretensions more than they fear its hazards. Whatever the calculation, it is inarguable that such decisions are deeply personal. We should hardly dictate to a person which risks are worth taking any more than we should prevent an applied physics major from taking a seminar on 17th-century English poetry. Sure, you can try to convince the student that Milton does not merit the possible risk to her GPA, but the decision is ultimately hers alone.

College football is no different. Assuming athletes understand the dangers involved—a crucial prerequisite—what right do others have to mock their cost-benefit analysis? And the benefits are truly numerous. Football exhibits all the features of a vibrant religion. Its performance demands the triune synthesis of heart, mind, and body. The game is akin to the most ostentatious mass: Every Sunday, uniformed men prostrate themselves on the ground with the fervor of religious penitents, their fate decreed upon them by somber officials clad in the clerical colors of black and white. The sport’s most dramatic play is the Hail Mary, and it’s little wonder the quarterback often marks the end of a game by genuflecting. The Columbia Lions think and act as one unified flesh—their professed creed: one team, under Alma Mater, indivisible.

Beyond the virtues football affords athletes in the way of discipline, courage, and self-sacrifice, football also provides those who excel a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve success. A significant number of professional football players are born into poverty; these individuals view football as a means to overcome their own plight as well as to alleviate the impoverished conditions of their families back home. How can we deny athletes the right to decide whether they deem the risk of developing CTE worthwhile?

When discussing the prompt with Dan Driscoll, I inquired of him precisely this question. He responded (and his contention has been echoed by others) that individuals from disadvantaged homes cannot make a wholly objective calculation in this case, as they are influenced by a variety of external structural factors. With this comment, we have arrived at a novel restatement of the philosophy of the nobility. If poverty constitutes a limiting factor on an individual’s capacity to make reasoned decisions, and financial security removes these impediments to objective assessment, then the wealthy ought to be making all decisions for the poor. Is this not classism? It is a cruel irony of history that well-intentioned sentiments are often co-opted by reactionary forces. The movement calling to curtail the play of football at universities unfortunately exemplifies this tendency.

The question at hand, like many other current controversies, revolves around the value of health. Living healthily has become the objective value anchoring our lives. Friendship is encouraged as a conduit to mental health, while doctors promote laughter as a tool of self-care. Such thinking is manifestly backwards. Human health serves a purely instrumental function—we take care of our bodies precisely so that we can engage in such worldly pleasures as pepper-crusted matjes or Macallan 25.

Of course, being healthy is important, but it is important like wearing socks is important. If we could do without those oppressive foot manacles and live all the same, we surely would.

Benjamin Apfel is a senior studying philosophy at Columbia College. Before arriving at Columbia, he spent a year in an ultra-Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem where he studied Talmudic texts in Yiddish.

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By BENJAMIN APFEL

John and I went to school together from kindergarten through senior year, and in all honesty I was always jealous of him. He’s one of those Ol’ American Golden Boys: a kind, attractive kid who was smart enough to handle AP classes and, of course, played football. For as long as I can remember, John was always the best athlete in the class.

I went to a big football high school, and John was the quarterback. During our senior year, in a game against our rival high school, he got sacked by a 250-pound defensive lineman. John explained that after the hit, he essentially blacked out, that his vision was blurred afterwards and he couldn’t keep his head from scrambling. He kept playing.

“Can I ask why you’d do something like that?” I asked.

“Mostly because you’re still physically able to play even if your head gets fucked up, so I kinda felt obligated to stay in,” John replied.

John felt he had an obligation to stay in the game. Even though he knew he was harming his health, he felt he had a responsibility to play—and I’m sure he’s not the only one. For every concussive blow to the head a football player takes, there are numerous reasons why they feel they must continue to play. A university-sponsored football program such as Columbia’s adds an even greater obligation, an even greater incentive, to do physical harm to yourself. This is contrary to the responsibilities of an institution of higher learning.

Football is bad for your health. Recent scientific studies have linked repeated blows to the head to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition. Of all the football players studied, 87 percent showed signs of CTE, with 15 years as the average length of their football career. If we assume college football players started playing the game at around 12 years old (which is a decent assumption, since most college athletes have been perfecting their sport for years), by the time they graduate, they will have facilitated concussive blows to the head for 10 years. At a university committed to strengthening our intellect and decision-making abilities, it is clearly counterintuitive to allow students to participate in an activity where their brains are harmed on a daily basis.

Proponents of the program regularly speak to the benefits of the game—spurring a sense of athleticism in the student body, fostering a sense of community on campus, etc. But those things aren’t certain; we can’t be sure these benefits will be realized. What we can be sure of, though, is that students are getting hurt in a way they would not be in other sports.

But it’s not just that Columbia allows students to play football; in fact, it incentivizes it. A Columbia education is a very valuable thing, even if you only consider the price tag. The University, in essence, says to football players: We will give you a world-class education, so long as you do damage to your own brain on a regular basis. What the University is doing, then, is implicitly incentivizing self-harm. And the reason it does it is because people think football is fun to watch. People get excited about the football team. The University can sell tickets and merchandise and advertise at games. There is profit to be made.

Regardless of whether or not these football players can be said to make their own rational decisions on the matter, as Benjamin argues, Columbia still violates a necessary principle—that you shouldn’t have to sell your health for an education.

John and I went to school together from kindergarten through senior year, and in all honesty I was always jealous of him. He’s one of those Ol’ American Golden Boys: a kind, attractive kid who was smart enough to handle AP classes and, of course, played football. For as long as I can remember, John was always the best athlete in the class.

I went to a big football high school, and John was the quarterback. During our senior year, in a game against our rival high school, he got sacked by a 250-pound defensive lineman. John explained that after the hit, he essentially blacked out, that his vision was blurred afterwards and he couldn’t keep his head from scrambling. He kept playing.

Dan Driscoll is a Columbia College sophomore studying philosophy and English. His interests include professional baseball, Kurt Vonnegut, and the use of the semicolon. Message him on Facebook if you’re interested in playing some four square.

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By DAN DRISCOLL

The crowd has settled in its seats and the last strains of the opening overture have just faded away. I take a deep breath and savor the moment; all the preparation and neglected assignments have led up to this. I whisper into my headset, “Lights in cue 1.” “Ready.” “Ok, go lights.” The stage floods with light and the actor enters stage right. It’s game time.

Calling the cues in Lerner may pale in comparison to the stadium lights at Baker Field, but for me, the passion is the same, and it’s the best way for me to understand the football player’s experience. Just as in student theater, the schedules can be grueling, but the camaraderie, competition, and professionalism can outweigh the difficulty. It would be presumptuous of me, a person who would rather spend her time in the theater than on the field, to make any sort of value judgment on the realities of being an athlete at Columbia.

Columbia’s mission implicitly includes a commitment to developing all parts of the individual. What attracts many of the varsity players to Columbia is that it allows athletes to explore their more intellectual interests without being shoehorned into the same academic experience as the rest of us. It is true that the many off-campus weekends and demanding practice schedules can cut deeply into academic life. However, while some majors may be out of reach for such athletes, there are concentrations and minors designed to lessen the coursework and allow athletes to create their ideal academic environment. More importantly, it is up to the athletes to weigh these considerations themselves.

However, there are consequences to consider outside of the personal choice of the football players. Much of the outrage over collegiate sports in general is that it can lead students to be treated as financial assets, rather than people. Even Columbia, which can hardly be considered a football school, has chosen to invest heavily in its football program. According to the data collected from the U.S. Department of Education, the football team represents about 18 percent of Columbia’s total expenditure on athletics. This same report found that in 2016, the football team pulled in about $3.8 million or 24 percent of all revenue generated by all athletic teams. This at a school where a 5-0 winning record is cause for campus jubilation.

Although relativism is not the most attractive argument, it is important to note how Columbia stacks up compared to other institutions. Here, financial aid is doled on a need basis rather than to attract future NFL players, and the first-rate education is meant to be the main draw to the football program. In addition, football players aren’t afforded special treatment beyond a meal plan that matches their high level of exercise, equipment supplied in order to minimize the financial strain of playing the sport, and help finding tutors to aid them in striking a balance between their studies and their sport. Thus, Columbia’s football program is a strategic investment which comes nowhere close to potential abuses of college football programs.

Finally, it would be impossible in the space of this article to effectively present all the scientific data on the dangers of football. Players who step on the field face risks ranging from broken bones to permanent brain damage, and it would be irresponsible to ignore this. But the action this research inspires is to radically change the rules of the sport rather than canceling it altogether. In fact, it would be cruel misinterpretation of Columbia’s mission to simply do away with the football program.

The crowd has settled in its seats and the last strains of the opening overture have just faded away. I take a deep breath and savor the moment; all the preparation and neglected assignments have led up to this. I whisper into my headset, “Lights in cue 1.” “Ready.” “Ok, go lights.” The stage floods with light and the actor enters stage right. It’s game time.

Calling the cues in Lerner may pale in comparison to the stadium lights at Baker Field, but for me, the passion is the same, and it’s the best way for me to understand the football player’s experience. Just as in student theater, the schedules can be grueling, but the camaraderie, competition, and professionalism can outweigh the difficulty. It would be presumptuous of me, a person who would rather spend her time in the theater than on the field, to make any sort of value judgment on the realities of being an athlete at Columbia.

Ayo Osobamiro is a senior in Columbia College disappointing her parents by studying history and French literature. You can usually find her on campus schlepping various items for the student productions she works on, cracking cheesy jokes on her URC tours or binge watching reality TV in Butler.

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By AYO OSOBAMIRO

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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