Is it worth health risk to play football, serve in military?

Did you watch the “60 Minutes” report on closed head injury on Jan. 7? They compared the injuries from football players’ slamming into one another to the ground to the injuries from soldiers being blown up in combat situations. Much was made about the long-term consequences for these people and for society at large.

There was much hand-wringing what to do about this. How do we protect soldiers and football players from such injuries? There were even suggestions that we might be able to prevent such injuries from happening in the future, or we might be able to learn how to repair such injuries.

These are noble goals. After all, there are likely situations in other aspects of life that could produce similar injuries. It would be good for us to learn how to treat such injuries or, better yet, prevent them.

This would be good for the larger society. People in all walks of life would benefit. There have been similar benefits to society from things learned from other war-time medical gains. The use of emergency medical procedures can be traced to much learned on the battlefield.

Medical technology that has helped many soldiers return to better functioning has translated to better care for civilians. Collision technology learned on the football field has helped others in protecting themselves.

The scimitar-like leg appendages that have allowed many soldiers to have better post-injury movement has been transferred to civilian life.

But not once did I hear in that report the idea we should stop putting our fellow human beings in situations where such repairs are necessary. Let us start with the easy one: football. Football is an entirely voluntary activity. No one will die or lose their freedom as a result of a football game not being played.

I am no expert on the sizes of football players. However, I do know they have grown larger, more powerful and faster. The force at which they hit one another has consequently become considerably more damaging.

Just an incidental awareness of the weekly injuries reveals more damage to their bodies. I also know they leap into the air and hit the artificial turf at faster speeds than before.

Injury is inevitable. And among those injuries are injuries to the brain. Players, even with the improved helmets and tackling and hitting procedures, seem to be injuring their brains at a frightening rate. I have to ask if this mayhem is worth it.

Is it worth the lives of these men to have them face certain, eventual death for our entertainment?

A more difficult question has to do with soldiers in combat. Many come back with closed head injuries that alter their lives permanently. Many eventually end their own lives by suicide. Many die a slow death.

I can point to a few I am aware of who spend most of their lives sitting in their garages staring out at the world going by.

Many believe our soldiers are fighting a worthy cause. I have to question if this is really true. I have to wonder if they are merely serving a military-industrial complex that values spending on military hardware over the lives of these people.

I have to question if our military is defending America or if it is defending the profits of a few.

Whether it is football or combat, is it worth the lives of these people to see their lives permanently altered in the service of entertainment or military service?

Granted, they are a minority of people in either the military or football. I am neither anti-sport nor anti-military.

I just want us to think about the consequences of our actions.

Jim Matthews is a longtime resident of Greenfield. Send comments to dr-editorial@