In the spring of 2018, a number of former Notre Dame football players came together to initiate a medical research project independent of the University of Notre Dame with the idea of examining the health of a large group of former ND football players. While a small pilot study was originally proposed, the plan that evolved from those discussions came to embrace a major medical study of over 500 former ND football players from the seventeen (1964-1980) football seasons of Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine. The prestigious Boston University School of Medicine agreed to provide the players a multi-year research project involving an initial medical survey that could then be updated over the years as the players’ age.
The long term risks of playing American football are controversial issues today not just because of the uncertain nature and scope of the medical risks but also because the debate often invokes values reflected in the esteem we grant to many of our major educational institutions. The purpose of this study is not to join that debate. This study begins with the hope of joining together to go down a path where we might find some potential answers. If research indicates some cause for concern, then the need for exploration of a number of ideas and issues will arise and those issues will have to be better addressed in the future by everyone involved.
The findings of this medical study will eventually be published in a professional medical journal. However, all personally identifiable information related to the medical condition of individual players in the study will be closely safeguarded and kept strictly confidential. This research project goes to the heart of a university’s mission and the University of Notre Dame, to its credit, has informally welcomed the study. As Notre Dame’s football physician put it, the “study has the potential to provide valuable information to the medical community and help us to better understand the long-term risks associated with college football.”
Distinguished neurologists and prominent treating physicians on the players’ Steering Committee as well as researchers at Boston University School of Medicine believe this project has the potential to greatly expand our understanding of the long term medical impact of playing American football. The study, which is expected to start late in 2018 is completely independent of the University of Notre Dame. The founder of Notre Dame Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., hoped the University would be “a powerful means for good.” The former Notre Dame players initiating this medical study believe they are acting in this spirit of their University, with its commitment to the welfare of its students and its long tradition of leadership in college sports.