DOVER, NH (CBS) – For now, Dr. Paul Butler finds himself on a lonely island.
“I am suggesting that we try to stop the game of football in Dover,” says the soft spoken member of Dover’s school board.
Those words may not have trickled down to the high school practice field yet, where players ran through drills this afternoon.
But the statement was something of a lightning bolt at Monday’s school board session.
“The literature on head injuries in football is getting increasingly clear,” says Butler. “The game is dangerous for our brains.”
Butler is not trying to be a stick in the mud. He’s a retired general surgeon, who played high school and Division 3 college football as a kid – and loved it.
But now, he argues that Dover schools should ban the game, amid what he sees as clear evidence of the lasting damage that concussions can have on the developing brain.
“If we’re hurting our brains as youngsters in a game that we love,” he says, “it hurts us later in life.”
But Dover’s athletic director believes banning football is a gross and unnecessary over-reaction to a real problem that schools and youth coaches are already addressing.
He points to lengthy training and medical protocols, put in place to prevent, recognize and treat concussions.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to scrap football at all,” argues athletic director Peter Wotton. “We have safety nets in place.”
He contends it boils down to parent and student choice in the end, electing to join football – or any other sport – with the informed knowledge of its risks.
Many folks in town seem to share his view that dumping football is ludicrous.
“How far is this nanny state going to go?” says one father. “Are they going to wrap us all in bubble wrap?”
“You can ride a bike and get hurt the same way,” another Dad chimes in. “Are we going to ban bicycles?”
Dr. Butler is keenly aware that his stand against football will not win him any popularity contests. But he believes his newly adopted mission is his moral and ethical duty.
“I know it’s a little radical,” he says, “and I’m not sure I’ll be able accomplish it because it’s such a part of our culture.”
He agrees that school sports are a character builder – vitally important to the student-athlete.
But to Butler, there is no way around the fact that human beings hurtling into each other at speeds exceeding 15 miles per hour is formula for brain injury at some point – no matter what precautions are taken or safer techniques taught.
“I know coaches are trying to teach children to tackle with their shoulders and not their head,” Butler says. “But that is just not happening.”
So – at the very least – he hopes parents will dig into the mountain of concussion evidence readily available to them and eventually be swayed – just like Americans were on the subjects of smoking, seat belts and bike helmets.
“Those are no-brainers now,” says Butler, “and I think someday not playing football will be a no-brainer also.”
He points to brain injury lawsuits brought against virtually every level of football – from the NFL on down. And if schools don’t shut down football on their own – he predicts – multi-million dollar lawsuits eventually will.
The football ban Dr. Butler proposes will be discussed at the Dover school board’s November meeting.