There is a particular British naval ship that weighs 8000 tonnes, has an MK8 that can launch 12 40kg rounds every minute, a Gatling that will shoot 3000 20mm shells in the same amount time, and a Sea Viper aerial defence system capable of firing guided missiles at any air-borne threat within a 75 mile radius. It’s called a ‘Type 45 Destroyer’ and it is a regular feature in the Navy docks of Portsmouth.
The warships however, aren’t the only thing in town called Destroyers. The University’s American Football team decided some years ago to adopt the name and, specifically in recent weeks, they have been living up to it.
Following their promotion into Division One last year the Destroyers have won their first three games of the season. But that’s not what has maintained their parallel to the warship. Rather, it is that within their short season thus far, they have sent at least one opposition player per game to the hospital with a broken bone (one arm, one leg and one knee-cap to be exact).
Considering that under normal circumstances these injuries would be regarded as ‘grievous bodily harm’, there is an interesting moral question at play here: should we let people do this to each other?
The American Football world has been struggling with this question for some time – and it gets worse than broken bones. Participation in the sport is now reliably correlated with a progressive degenerative brain disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E (a correlation somewhat popularised by the 2015 film ‘Concussion’).
Research also shows that retired NFL (America’s National Football League) players are five to nineteen times as likely as the general population to be diagnosed with a dementia-related condition. And it’s not much better in the amateur ranks.
Data from the National Centre for Catastrophic Injury revealed that between 1982 and 2009, two hundred and ninety-five American high school students died from football injuries. In light of these numbers, it’s easy to see why the movement that is calling for the sport to be banned is growing.
The only thing is, they’re wrong. People must be allowed to do this to each other.
All arguments about the illegality of inflicting these injuries away from the field, as well as the relentless Hunger-Games comparisons, simply evaporate with the mention of one word: consent. Everyone on that field chooses to be there. They choose to accept the risk. Therefore they are feely consenting to be hurt, and no one has the right to stop them.
“We are not free unless we are free do to whatever we want with our own bodies. Even if that is destroying them.”
The people that think they do in fact have this right and are therefore trying to ban the sport, are making a mistake that is becoming uncomfortably common. They’re using their genuine desire to help people to excuse the practice of authoritarianism. They’re arguing that it’s okay to strip people of their liberty because they know better. This is never okay. We are not free unless we are free do to whatever we want with our own bodies. Even if that is destroying them.
And to those who maintain that young and naïve American athletes are manipulated into putting themselves through this by the offering of multi-million dollar contracts, and that without the money they would never take the risk of playing: tell that to the Destroyers and the thousands like them in the UK who are being paid exactly nothing to do just that.
Of course, it might well be that the best possible scenario for all involved would be to never play this game. There is certainly a strong utilitarian argument that points in that direction. But the people who advocate this position need to enter their evidence into the market place of ideas. Only there can it compete fairly with other ideas. Only there are the players of the game able exercise their liberty and decide for themselves what is best for them.
Any offer from this group to skip past the part where the players are free do decide for themselves, despite how sweetly it is put, should be firmly declined. The players must be given the choice, and they must be allowed to take the risk. Even if that means they might destroy each other.
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