What would Mill say about playing football?

John Stuart Mill

While I was reading blog posts on The Big House of Ideas, two posts (Mill’s View of Professional Sports and the College Alternative and No Easy Answers- Rule Changes in Football) sparked my interest and I thought to myself, would John Stuart Mill think that playing football is harming oneself or harming others as well? In the fourth chapter of his book “On Liberty”, Mill reveals that “an individual may do anything as long as he or she does not harm others”. However, it is difficult to draw the line as to what is only harming oneself and what is harming others around you. 

Football is a very dangerous sport and studies have been done that show playing football has damaging effects on the athlete’s long term health. In a New York Times article, The NFL recently stated that they expect one third of retired players to experience brain trauma and it will most likely occur before the general population. Now it is up for debate whether this is considered harmful to people besides the player affected by the brain damage. Some say no, that if a player wants to play football then he knows about the risks and it only does damage to his own body. But critics to that view believe if a retired player gets brain damage, it affects his family, his teammates, and society as a whole. His family now must take care of him both physically and financially. Society loses a productive citizen and is now forced to use resources that could be used for something else to instead help the player through therapy and rehab.

Jerome Bettis

Mill believes that “I am harmed if my ability to pursue my life as before is significantly curtailed”. Under that definition, I believe life threatening injuries caused by playing football counts as having your life “significantly curtailed”. Some NFL football players get lucky like Jerome Bettis and not get injured at all, while others are not so lucky and have serious career ending/ life threatening injuries. Bettis played 13 years in the NFL as a running back, which is considered one of the most injury prone positions in the game. He went on to a Hall of Fame career without ever being seriously injured. Now we just have to wait if any brain issues will surface in the future. Others like D.J. Hayden were not so lucky, he tore the interior vena cava during practice one day at the University of Houston. This injury is known to have a 50/50 chance of surviving and luckily Hayden persevered. However, his life had changed because of the injury, he had to overcome tremendous challenges in returning to football shape. Hayden was miraculously able to overcome this set back and is now playing cornerback for the Oakland Raiders.

Since Mill is from a different time period, it is hard to determine where he would draw the line between harming oneself and harming others. Now looking at what football is today, one could make a strong case that playing football affects a lot more than just the person playing it.

~Andrew Fink (Overachiever 1)


3 thoughts on “What would Mill say about playing football?

  1. Andrew,

    Really nice post. I agree with what you are saying about Mill’s opinions on American football and how players, their families, and society is being harmed by the game. Your quotations used, really aid your argument. Also, the real-life examples that you used allowed me to further understand your argument. Something that I think you did really well in this post is get right to the point; there was no clutter and the phrasing was easy to understand. Overall, a great and informative blog post.



  2. I think your blog post brings up a very interesting and original point. Football is very dangerous, along with many other sports. Football players do put themselves at risk because they can easily get hurt by others, while also hurting others. Though this does cause harm to other citizens, it is the choice of every football player to go onto that field knowing what injuries are possible. Football players take the risk, so if they get hurt, it is essentially as if they hurt themselves because they allowed themselves to go out on the field. Football, or any team contact sport inherently affects more than one person, but it is a choice. Football players have the choice of taking a risk. Harming others can be allowed if they allow it. This may also connect to other social issues such as euthanasia and assisted killing. Though it is an enormous moral issue, it is the choice of the victim, so Mill cannot consider that to be harm. Mill would certainly find difficulty defining harm in relation to sports, as seen through your blog post! The specific examples outlines in your post support your argument and aid in creating a strong comparison between John Stuart Mill’s theories and modern football.


  3. Andrew,
    Great post. I do agree that football would fall under the the category of activities that would harm others. However, the NFL is a special case. Players sign medical contracts and other forms that they agree to the harms that could occur. Because of this “social contract” of types, I feel like Mills argument cannot apply to activities backed by contracts like in the case of the NFL.


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