Your Brain On Football vs. Your Brain On Marijuana

Something to ponder as football season approaches:

A study shows a career in professional football makes you 3 times as likely to develop neurodegenerative disease and 4 times as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and ALS as compared to the general population. A different study shows participation in college football makes it 3 times as likely the athletes will develop symptoms related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy compared to the general population. Yet another separate report shows high school football players are twice as likely to sustain concussions as their collegiate counterparts.

Compare this to consumption of marijuana. One study shows “persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline,” although this does not account for occasional users. On the flip side, the use of marijuana is associated with controlling epileptic seizures, possibly stopping the spread of cancer, and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s (among other benefits).

Both activities share certain risks. I would argue football is riskier for adults. So how does our culture treat these two?

Football is a national religion. Five-year olds are encouraged to start playing football. Nearly every high school in the country makes football the centerpiece of its fall activities. Public policy directs tax dollars for the benefit of college football and the NFL. To drive home the importance of football in American life, the government specifically includes “professional football leagues” in its antitrust exemptions.

It’s safe to say lawmakers don’t roll out the red carpet for marijuana.

This is not an argument for banning football. I played football as a kid; I enjoyed it. I cheer for the Chicago Bears every Sunday during the NFL season. But does it make any damn sense where football is viewed as an American institution worth subsidizing despite the dangerous risks, but the mere suspicion of drug use means the police need not show any remorse when the collateral damage from an arbitrary ban includes a 19-month-old toddler?

The idea of sending a SWAT team to break up a football game in order to save the participants from the risk of concussion sounds ridiculous.  Sending in a SWAT team to “save” marijuana users from themselves?  That’s standard procedure.

Policymakers owe the citizens of this country an apology for their morally bankrupt priorities. I’m not holding my breath.


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