Mark W. Hendrickson

I did not know until I read the early obituaries that Alex Karras had suffered from dementia. He was one of the many former NFL players who have sued the league for not having taken the proper precautions to protect players from head injuries.

This is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Dementia is a tragic and heart-breaking affliction. We need to re-examine our values. Are we on the path to the grim sports future as depicted in the 1976 movie “Rollerball” where the craving for violent entertainment leads citizens to devalue the lives of athletes?

Are the players entirely innocent? After all, common sense tells us not to let our heads get knocked around. Karras and his contemporaries must have realized that playing a game based on repeated violent contact could inflict long-term physical damage.

How will the courts rule? Will judges ignore the ex post facto provision in the Constitution and punish the league for past behavior that was acceptable then, but may now be considered unacceptable? One would think that the courts could only find the league liable if owners knew the risks of long-term brain damage and withheld that medical knowledge from the players, but with today’s activist judges, you never know.

If the courts find the NFL liable for the long-term health consequences of playing pro football, the game will have to be fundamentally redesigned. What would we be left with—touch football? Would fans then pay so much to watch it? Must athletes put the health of their brains at risk as the price of earning millions—a diabolical temptation and tradeoff?

The sad passing of the multi-talented Alex Karras raises some profound and disturbing questions.

Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.