When Paul Butler called it a moral imperative for fellow members of the Dover, N.H., school board to at least consider discontinuing football in light of mounting research on long-term brain injuries, he did so during a meeting largely attended by empty chairs.
When Paul Butler called it a moral imperative for fellow members of the Dover, N.H., school board to at least consider discontinuing football in light of mounting research on long-term brain injuries, he did so during a meeting largely attended by empty chairs. He wasn't even expecting the local newspaper to report on his presentation, delivered Oct. 1 without notes and without discussion - much less ABC News, NPR and The New York Times to run with the story. The next school board meeting, on Nov. 5, drew a bigger crowd, including a pediatrician friend with a contrary opinion, Dover High School's athletic director and athletic trainer, and a football mom endorsing the safety afforded by her son's helmet, which she had brought with her. Butler, a 68-year-old retired general surgeon who treated patients in Dover for 34 years, had to beg his own father to let him play high school football, played football and hockey at Amherst College, and loves both sports to this day. He is no fan of the limelight, but has taken every opportunity to share his message, doing so recently with Paul Steinbach.
Q: What do you make of recent calls to prohibit contact football until age 14, based in part on participants' neck strength?
A: That doesn't meet common sense. At age 14, there are boys who are well developed. They have big muscle mass, and they're on the opposite side of the ball from other 14-year-olds who are prepubescent. Unfortunately, they sometimes end up in a collision. Why 14 years old? Well, 14 is when children start high school, and if you're going to get a chance to get into college because of football, then chances are you're going to need to play for four years. So I wonder if that might be playing into the magical age of 14.
Q: Were you ever concussed?
A: I think so. I was never knocked out, but I remember 10 or 15 times getting hit hard enough that I got up slowly and felt dizzy, and I would tell myself, "If I can't see or think straight by the time I get back to the huddle, I'll take myself off the field." But I never felt I needed to.
Q: Do you wish that someone on the school board at your alma mater, Wakefield High School, had addressed such risks back then?
A: Sure. If I had known then what I know now, I never would have played.
Q: The school board meets again Dec. 10. What's next?
A: My plan is to force a vote at some point so that all my colleagues are on record - if not to ban football, at least to try to separate the school system from football. Our job is to educate kids. We have a limited budget, and now that all this research is out, I think the lawyers will start to pounce. We have a $46 million school budget here in Dover, and if we had a $5 million settlement against us, that would mean a lot of lost books, computers and teachers for our kids.