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Inter-Collegiate Football, Responsibility, Exploitation, and the Public Good


This article presents philosophical-ethical arguments concerning the extent to which NCAA inter-collegiate (“American” or U.S.) football is a public good and some implausible implications of the claim that it constitutes a public good and ought to be publicly subsidized as part of a component of U.S. higher education generally as is currently the case. Underlying this main argument is one concerning who or what should have the responsibility for subsidizing the necessary costs of the sport, including its associated healthcare and medical costs.

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  1. 1.

    I maintain that in general inter-collegiate footballers as albeit young adults generally qualify to one degree or another as responsible (liable) agents and have both an epistemic responsibility (Corlett 1996: Chapter 5; Corlett 2007, 2008) and a moral responsibility (Corlett 2014a: Chapter 2; Corlett 2018; Fischer and Ravizza 1998; Fischer 2006, 2012) to seek truth an avoid error regarding the realities of CTE and normal football play and that they have a responsibility (duty) to not play football to the extent that its costs are incurred by taxpayers against their will, a position which assumes among other things that such young adults are normal cognizers, and have reasonable access to at least general discussions of emerging facts pertinent to CTE and normal football play thereby satisfying the epistemic condition of the legal concept of informed consent relative to their playing inter-collegiate football.

  2. 2.

    The latter form of protest would constitute a direct (as opposed to an indirect act) act of civil disobedience to the law of contracts, whereas the former form of protest might constitute a species of non-violent direct action. For a discussion of direct and indirect civil disobedience as well as non-violent direct action, see Corlett (2003b).

  3. 3. accessed on 21 October 2018.

  4. 4.

    Whether or not some form of socialism ought to obtain in the U.S. or elsewhere or even globally is a discussion I leave for another occasion wherein the focus is on political philosophy more generally. In this important manner, however, my entire discussion of this issue, while it rests in part on certain assumptions about political philosophy, constitutes an internal argument relative to (not in defense of) free-market economic conditions.

  5. 5.

    Evidence in favor of this claim includes the increasing numbers of high school athletes either quitting or refusing to play football because of the risks of CTE resulting from normal football play. On 19 November 2018, CBS News reported a 6.5% decrease nationally in high school football players since 2009 due largely to fears of CTE.

  6. 6.

    For more on coercive offers and threats, see Feinberg (1986) and Wertheimer (1987).

  7. 7.

    To retort that even a modest percentage of taxation—even less than any of the above-mentioned needs—ought to be imposed is to misuse public funds for resources to target leisure activities when such funding should instead be directed at the most vital public goods.


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Correspondence to J. Angelo Corlett.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

This research involved no research with animals or human participants.

Additional information

This article is dedicated to Professor Myles Brand, friend and former President of the NCAA and who began, during his brief service to the NCAA, to devise plans to implement reforms with regard to how student athletes are treated by NCAA rules and regulations. For more on Brand and the role of athletics in U.S. higher education, see Corlett (2013a) in The Journal of Academic Ethics. I am grateful to the excellent referees for the Journal of Academic Ethics for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful to the members of the philosophy department at the University of Louisville who provided incisive comments on an earlier draft of this paper: Thomas Maloney, Guy Dove, Avery Kolers, Robert Kimball, Andrea Reed, Andreas Elpidorou and Stephen Hanson.

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Corlett, J.A. Inter-Collegiate Football, Responsibility, Exploitation, and the Public Good. J Acad Ethics 18, 249–262 (2020).

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  • CTE
  • Exploitation
  • Healthcare
  • Inter-collegiate football
  • Leisure
  • Medical care
  • NCAA
  • Public good
  • Responsibility
  • U.S. higher education