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After attending Thursday’s presentation by Malcolm Gladwell, I found his claims that the University of Pennsylvania and its students are harming themselves by attending and supporting Penn football games to be outrageous. His overall discussion was disrespectful not only to the football program, but to the Penn community as a whole.

Gladwell began by meandering through anecdotal references to coal miners and insurance representatives, before aiming to relate those topics to the dangers of playing football. During his discussion, he superficially described the concept of chronic traumatic encephalothapy, which is a progressive degenerative disease that affects the brain after football players experience multiple concussions.

Being that I’m familiar with CTE, as well as Gladwell’s contributions to Grantland, an online sports journalism website, I immediately pepped up and became more interested in how he planned to mesh this all together.

I was not nearly prepared for what he was about to say. He professed that CTE is a prevalent problem among football players, and the sport of football should ultimately be eradicated at Penn so as to move toward a solution for the complex disease. On top of that, he strongly urged the Penn community to stop attending football games altogether, which was beyond me.

I was disheartened to see so many fellow students in the crowd show support to someone who presented a case to ultimately break up a huge part of what contributes to Penn tradition based largely on their admiration of his personal status. I believe the better, more progressive approach would be to come together to support one another, and to show pride in the efforts and talents which we all have worked so hard to develop.

Moreover, and most importantly, he dropped the name of Owen Thomas, a dear friend and former teammate of mine who sadly succumbed to CTE and committed suicide in the spring of my freshman year.

Regardless of Gladwell’s intention to bolster his argument, it was an off-base use of a circumstance that he had little knowledge about. He made use of sweeping claims that appealed to the emotions of a reverent crowd, which honestly isn’t overly concerned with the athletic scene on campus as it already stands. Owen’s case is more than just a piece of evidence. He is a figure that remains in the minds of all that knew him and who lived for the game of football. I’m almost sure he wouldn’t want to be associated with any case being made to destroy the game that he loved so much.

As athletes, we are crystal clear on the dangers that are inherent in our decision to participate in sports that we are passionate about. We complete numerous required forms and documents that signify our agreement to maintain all liability for negative outcomes that may occur at any time during competition and practice. Otherwise, we have the decision to simply quit. But it was appalling to hear Gladwell specifically claim that it is a huge disadvantage for the University to maintain a football program.

Like many others before me, football has been a passion of mine that I have pursued from a young age, and it has honestly given me the opportunity to come to Penn and enjoy all of the benefits this amazing place has to offer. It has helped shape me, and although I’m definitely not perfect, I’m a better person because of it. There is nothing better than having the chance to pursue your passion and to live out your dreams for as long as you can, and it’s a fallacy to simply assume that had I taken up another sport I would have been just as happy.

Great Ivy League men like Marcellus Wiley (current ESPN analyst), Robert Wolfe (former CEO of UBS Americas) and Calvin Hill, to name a few, have contributed more than just on the field during their time as students. Though these are but a few examples, there are numerous others like them and it would be unfortunate to think that we’d be limiting the opportunities of men who could be like them by taking away the sport of football altogether.

Justyn Williams
College senior, psychology major
Defensive back on the football team

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