Today we are joined by Kathleen Bachynski
, Assistant Professor of Public Health at Muhlenberg College, and author of No Game for Boys to Play: The History of Youth Football and the Origins of a Public Health Crisis
(University of North Carolina Press, 2019). In our conversation, we discussed the intersection of public health and American football, the difficulty in assessing and quantifying sports injuries, and the way that football organizers were able to mete out responsibility for broken bones, torn ligaments, and brain trauma to a wide range of participants. At its core, Bachynski’s work addresses the issue of whether or not football is safe for children.
In No Game for Boys to Play
, Bachynski examines American football from its origins from the perspective of a public health specialist and an historian. Her work illuminates the ways in which football came to shape and be shaped by hegemonic discourses of masculinity, frequently to the detriment of its players' health. Her work focuses on youth football – both in Pop Warner league and in high schools and considers a wide scope of medical issues rather than being limited to discussions of traumatic brain injury. She argues that an ethical response to youth football is to prohibit all dangerous contact (tackle football, cross checks in hockey, boxing) for children under age 18.
Bachynski’s combination of historical studies, epidemiological investigations, and public health research brings a new perspective to the history of football. Her engagement with a wide range of actors; including players, parents, coaches, doctors, legislators, equipment manufacturers, insurance agencies, and tort lawyers; showcases the importance of football to broader conversations about American masculinity, educational standards, and national defense. It also challenges teleological perspectives that might suggest that football safely has improved over time. While dental and traumatic spinal injuries are less severe, children are more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries despite (or perhaps because of) increasing standardization of safety equipment including helmets.
No Game for Boys to Play
is the winner of the 2020 North American Society for Sport History Monograph Book Award and so should be read by a wide audience. Her work will especially appeal to scholars interested in the overlap between histories of medicine and sport.
Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled
A Nation in Play: Physical Culture, the State, and Society during France’s Dark Years, 1932-1948, examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.