What if it was a traumatic brain injury that caused Ray Rice to act the way he did last year? What if it wasn’t one but several? Would we be more understanding of his actions?

This morning I am up early partly because I couldn’t sleep and partly because I’m aware that any moment I will likely get a call to substitute teach. I love teaching. It gives me an opportunity to connect with children and be there to see what’s going on in our public schools, in a way that most only read about. How has technology changed the curriculum? What are kids like nowadays compared to when I was attending school?

Yesterday I taught third grade. Not unlike other classrooms I have been in, the classroom was adorned with items that would indicate the teacher’s personal likes. For example, an entire bulletin board was dedicated to the New York Giants. There was a calendar in the middle, and a hat from the year the Giants won the Super Bowl. At first I saw one poster above the bulletin board, but eventually I noticed another. Included on the bulletin board was a class photo. The teacher, obviously the one I was in for, was in the photo shown wearing a NY Giants jersey. Most of the students in the photo were also wearing NY Giants apparel, except for the few that were proudly showing off their Philadelphia Eagles gear.

Besides teaching, today’s agenda also includes helping my son formulate research questions for a paper he’s working on. His topic, which he chose on his own, is traumatic brain injury and concussions in football. I suggested he add how those injuries might correlate to violence against women. In particular, intimate partner violence committed by professional athletes might be something that is caused or complicated by CTE.

The first part of any research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem. This part ought to be relatively simple. Understanding how traumatic brain injuries can hinder an individual’s ability to think clearly and act without necessary self-control can help us all to have empathy for those who are suffering. So many times people fail to understand why some women choose to stay with their partners when their partners have shown a propensity toward violence.  It’s complicated to say the least. Its not always easy to walk away from someone you love, especially when that someone might be suffering from a debilitating brain disease. What should we do?  Note that attributing CTE to intimate partner violence is not an excuse for the behavior but it might help us to know that individuals who commit these acts are not always as capable as the majority of us when it comes to acting rationally.

The National Football League is woven into the fabric of our culture. Like it or not it’s become part of us. Probably more than any religion or social habit, connecting through sports is what we have here in America that binds us together. What can we do to better understand how the traumatic brain injuries that have plagued the leagues are affecting us on so many levels?

As I sat in the classroom yesterday, looking at the posters of the NY Giants. I looked at the autograph from Rodney Hampton on the shelf. I wondered if the teacher I was in for was married to a former New York Giant. It sure seemed so. I thought about how special it must be for the students in her classroom to see the autographs. I wondered what they might think if their teacher happened to be married to a former NFL player.

Should the NFL be so visible in classrooms? Should professional athletes be heroes to children? Do we have a responsibility to be sure that the athletes are protected or do they enter into the game knowing the risks involved and get paid dearly to assume those risks?

Perhaps what’s a bit scarier, at least at the moment, is that I’ve managed to write all of this before coffee. Welcome to my world.

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