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Using or losing our heads in sports - Editorial

24 July 2013 06:25 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A best-selling American author Malcolm Gladwell in his latest sensational and explosive book has called for a ban on the popular American football–similar in nature to the rugby football we play but governed by different rules – because the regular bashing of young men’s heads at matches and practice sessions is known to be causing serious brain damage or a degenerative neurological disease similar to Alzheimer’s.

Addressing the Pennsylvania State University recently, the author--whose proposal has set off a massive debate in the United States, said American football had almost become part of the country’s culture and was big business involving millions of dollars. But the neurological disease was becoming so widespread that the thinking power, creative and imaginative power of young people were being seriously affected by American football which he described as dog fighting. About 4,200 retired players have now sued the National Football League for not warning them of the brain trauma or degenerative disease that could be caused by regular bashing of the head.


"The negative values of the globalised capitalist market economic system have turned sports also into a big competitive and cut-throat business"

He pointed out that the Pennsylvania University’s former captain, who was idolised and appeared to be perfectly normal, had committed suicide by hanging himself apparently due to depression resulting from brain damage. The author said banning American football might be a culture shock for tens of millions of fans and players. But the people needed to be made aware that young men came to College for education and to broaden their knowledge–and not to get their brains damaged and be mentally-unbalanced to the extent that they become a burden to society instead of being productive citizens.  According to the CNN television channel, Mr. Gladwell’s proposal is being seriously considered by US authorities including university officials and medical specialists. The author said substantial evidence of degenerative brain damage due to regular bashing on the playing fields could not be provided because only an autopsy after death showed the brain damage.

In Sri Lanka also, a similar sport like rugby football is growing in popularity in schools and clubs. However, bashing or tackling the head is not allowed though it takes place sometimes and the other parts of the body are bashed. Now, with the new disclosures about the brain damage caused in American football, Sri Lankan leaders and medical specialists need to seriously consider whether it is wise to encourage young people to take part in such sports.
The negative values of the globalised capitalist market economic system have turned sports also into a big competitive and cut-throat business. Before that, sports had been an arena where great people were made. That is why it was said, when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He will write not whether you won or lost but how you played the game.

Tragically in most countries including Sri Lanka, sports have become to a large extent a win-at-any-cost business. For instance cricket became Sri Lanka’s national pride especially after we won the World Cup in 1996, but Kerry Packer began buying players, and now the Indian Premier League specially has become a multi-million dollar business with bookmakers and other racketeers giving players a bonus to drop catches or deliberately lose their wickets. So much so that cynics say that there are questions as to whether those in the game are players or mudalalis. If sports have degenerated to the self-centred level of seeking personal gain or glory, prestige or popularity, then we have little or no reason to continue with games which produce young people who might fit in not to Kipling's Man, but Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.
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