Ethics, Brain Injuries, and Sports: Prohibition, Reform, and Prudence

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15 Scopus citations


In this paper, we explore the issue of the elimination of sports, or elements of sports, that present a high risk of brain injury. In particular, we critically examine two elements of Angelo Corlett’s and Pam Sailors’ arguments for the prohibition of football and Nicholas Dixon’s claim for the reformation of boxing to eliminate blows to the head based on (a) the empirical assumption of an essential or causal connection between brain injuries incurred in football and the development of a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); and (b) John Stuart Mill’s rejection of consensual domination (ie voluntary enslavement). We present four arguments to contest the validity of Corlett, Dixon’s and Sailor’s positions. Specifically, we argue that (i) certain autonomy-based arguments undermine paternalist arguments for reform; (ii) the nature of the goods people pursue in their lives might justify their foregoing (degrees of) future autonomy; (iii) Mill’s argument against consensual domination draws on ambiguous and arbitrary distinctions; (iv) the lack of consensus and empirical evidence regarding CTE arising from brain injuries in sport underdetermines calls for reform. We conclude that these proposals for reforming or eliminating sports with high risks of brain injuries are not well founded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-280
Number of pages17
JournalSport, Ethics and Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Philosophy


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