Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brain damage in sport

The problem with ethics is that there is always a gap between what is the case (according to evidence) and what ought to be done about it.

As such, readers might be interested in a news story about former NFL player Dave Duerson who requested his brain be left for medical analysis in his suicide note. If it can be substantially evidenced that certain sports have a high likelihood of significant brain damage, then does it mean that such sports should be banned or drastically altered to reduce this likelihood?

Equally interesting, former Olympic Gold medalist James Cracknell has made a video about the importance of wearing cycling helmets after he suffered brain injury whilst cycling in Arizona. In it, he states that he is no longer James Cracknell as the accident altered his personality but implies that despite this is, this new existence is still preferable to death. Some obvious philosophical questions arise here about identity: if James Cracknell says he is no longer James Cracknell, then who is he? And would that mean that James Cracknell is the equivalent of dead anyway? In which case, wouldn't that undermine his point about the wearing of a cycle helmet?


Anonymous said...

1) does it mean that such sports should be banned or drastically altered to reduce this likelihood?
I'd love to legislate common sense. However, you'd have to consider walking helmets: TEDxCopenhagen - Mikael Colville-Andersen - Why We Shouldn't Bike with a Helmet

2) Who is he?
Someone in an altered state. The difference is probably more extreme than how you or I change when we get hungry, but along the same lines. When I become thirsty or hungry I behave differently, I have different priorities, I interact with others in unusual ways.

3) equivalent of dead anyway?
Perhaps, yes. However, the new James Cracknell is able to experience the world. Is this a rebirth and a death combined?

4) undermine his point about the wearing of a cycle helmet?
Protective equipment that is worn on the body is your last line of defence. Consider everything else you could do to prevent some cycling collision: reflective vest, reflective flag & triangle by the rear wheel, being lit up like a sports stadium is at night, displaying functional video cameras (to dissuade those who intend to hurt others), riding with friends, hiring a police escort, and more. When everything else you tried falls through, then you have a crash helmet, maybe a spine protector, and your flesh to shield you from the fallout of a collision.

Focusing on dead vs living: We try to prevent and reduce harm to ourselves by using the tools we have accessible. Wearing a bicycle helmet sometimes makes me stand out. Sometimes this means I am more visible and so less likely to be overseen. I don't know whether the style of helmet I wear will protect me from a mirror striking the rear of my head. I know it does protect me from my own foolishness (which usually ends in sending myself over the handlebars). All I can do is try to avoid harm and, to date, my helmets have let me succeed this effort. Therefore, I answer no, a single example (mirror strike to rear of head causing brain damage) does not undermine his point of wearing a helmt to protect against known and unknown harms. If your helmet helps you just once, then it was a wise choice to wear it.

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