Fourth Down and Inches by Carla Killough McClafferty
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: The issue of concussion is receiving serious attention in organized football and that attention is long overdue. In Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda 2013), Carla Killough McClafferty examines this serious issue, its history, management, current research and long-term impact. I’m a major football fan and fall weekends find me tuned into my favorite college and pro teams, yelling like a maniac. I am far from alone and therein lies one of the many factors that make this issue far from simple.
McClafferty opens the book with a look at the early violent history of football when rules were quite different and a horrifying number of player deaths occurred. Calls came for the game to be abolished and even the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt became involved in the controversy. In 1909, twenty-eight players died, all but one the result of head injuries sustained in “mass plays” – something now outlawed. The game survived along with rule changes and the establishment of the NCAA governing body for collegiate sports but concussion has remained an important issue that is only recently being taken seriously.
The next portion of the book looks at what a concussion is, how it occurs, the frequency, treatment and long-term results. Recent innovations in brain imaging have provided doctors with new tools to understand concussion. McClafferty presents sobering new research that has helped raised concerns over this issue and resulted in changes in how players are treated after concussion. Interspersed throughout the book are accounts of players who have experienced concussions and the serious results including dementia, ALS and death.
McClafferty does a excellent job of presenting the ongoing research in a clear and understandable way and that research rises serious concerns about the safety of this sport that we Americans love so passionately. This is a book that should be read by every player, coach, parent and fan. This is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.
Cindy: I’m not the football fan that Lynn is (I bleed red and white Hoosier college basketball) but I was reading this last night in the family room where my husband was watching a pro football game and I shuddered as I looked back and forth between the tackles on the screen and the jars of brains being studied for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). CTE was once thought to be only suffered by boxers but has recently been found in football players, wrestlers, and other athletes who are at risk for repetitive head injuries. Because CTE cannot currently be diagnosed while a patient is alive, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy depends on brains being donated for study after death. Retired New England Patriot’s player Kevin Turner has promised to donate his to CSTE and he is almost certain they will find signs of CTE in his brain. He is currently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) , a fatal disease that causes patients to lose the ability to control their muscles. A recent study shows ALS and Alzheimer’s disease to be “four times higher in retired NFL players than in the general U.S. population.”
McClafferty lays out the information about the history, medical research, and the risks to players right along side the players’ and fans’ passion for the game. Photos of smiling players in full uniform are in stark contrast to the brain images showing the damage their beloved sport causes. I gave a copy of this book to our middle school football coach and am eagerly waiting to hear what he thinks. I plan to booktalk this to my middle school students and expect it to generate some strong opinions.
Common Core Connection
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
If ever there was a topic to generate passion for writing an argumentative essay, the dangers of football would qualify. There’s plenty of fodder for an essay on either side of the topic here, but students could use the “Further Reading” bibliography to provide additional evidence to support their reasoning and claim.
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