Sport-related neurotrauma and neuroprotection: Are return-to-play protocols justified by paternalism?

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Department of Humanities


Sport-related neurotrauma annually affects millions of athletes worldwide. The return-to-play protocol (RTP) is the dominant strategy adopted by sports leagues and organizations to manage one type of sport-related neurotrauma: concussions. RTPs establish guidelines for when athletes with concussions are to be removed from competition or practice, and when they can return. RTPs are intended to be neuroprotective, and to protect athletes from some of the harms of sport-related concussions, but there is athlete resistance to and noncompliance with RTPs. This prompts consideration of whether RTPs, as employed in adult, professional sports, are paternalistic, and if they are, whether they are objectionably so. If RTPs are uniquely effective at protecting current or future athlete autonomy, they might be justified by paternalism. I conclude that RTPs are paternalistic in their effects, but are not adequately justified, and thus they are objectionable.

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