This independent medical study, undertaken with Boston University School of Medicine, is designed to assess the impact of playing major college football on the physical and mental health of former Notre Dame football players from the years 1964-1980, both as they have aged and continue to age in the years ahead. The physical and related medical impact of playing college football has long been suspected but never closely studied. Now the issue of head trauma in sports has become highly controversial and is much in the news. Yet, no multi-year medical study of an aging group of former college football players has been undertaken or to our knowledge seems to be planned. This medical study now will begin to rectify that omission.
The former ND football players participating in the study are now between 58-75 years of age. This is as near a perfect cohort of men for exactly this type of study as one might wish for and leading neurologists expect the study to potentially involve ground breaking work in this field. The study might also potentially benefit our former ND players as they age with respect to early diagnosis and potential new information and treatment options.
There is research underway related to head trauma in sports and mental impairments. This multi-year study joins that effort by looking closely at this distinct group of former Notre Dame players. This may simply be one of those life situations that requires no more of us than that we recognize that we are in the right place at the right time to act and perhaps make a difference in the world. Though the players in this study won several national football championships at Notre Dame, this medical study may turn out to be our greatest legacy.
Players thought long and hard about undertaking this study. In deciding to go forward, the words written by then Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh just after ND’s 1966 championship season provided some inspiration. Here is what he said about football and life, and perhaps it’s applicable to college football today.
A football season is a lot like life, in microcosm. …As the season progresses, the sun wanes, the warmth diminishes, and optimistic hope is qualified by the hard lifelike realities of fierce competition, unexpected injuries, and the innate difficulty of sustained human effort. …While hope pursues, ultimate victory is again a fickle lady, ever to be wooed with all one’s might, but never in this life to be securely or forever won. Each week is a new encounter; each season a new challenge. Life is like that too, because it is spent in time, amid all the vicissitudes of personal trials and existential difficulties. Anyone who thinks otherwise lives in a dream world where reality has been replaced by fantasy.
This research project does not attempt to assess responsibility for injuries from playing college football. The study is focused on football’s future, not its past. We all loved the game that we played at Notre Dame. We just believe that the health of the game and the health of the players should go hand in hand. The real “pot of gold” at the end of this rainbow is simply the potential to benefit medical research in this field and for the possible translational benefits for our own ND players, as well as future players and their families at all levels of the sport.