In his poem, “Locksley Hall,” Alfred Lord Tennyson provided a key insight into the male mind with the famous line “in the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” This distinguishes it from the other seasons of summer, fall and winter, during which the young man's fancy is focused on gardening, beer, and macramé, respectively.
I'm just kidding, of course. Anyone who has spent much time with young men realizes this segment of the population has a consistent preoccupation with . . . let's call it “romance” no matter the time of year.
But autumn is upon us and football is now a close second in the minds of young American males. And that means beer, bratwurst, and globe injuries.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 100,000 people injure their eyes while playing sports each year. About one in seven of these athletes will suffer permanent vision loss.
Early in my own career as an ophthalmologist, I cared for a star professional football player whose days on the gridiron came to a premature conclusion when the thumb of one of his own teammates perforated his eye during a practice session.
After successful retinal re-attachment and penetrating keratoplasty, the eye had useful vision but could not be exposed to the risk of further trauma.
What will it take?
I've seen the same globe rupture from a finger occur in weekend warriors playing basketball. But more common in my experience with basketball players is orbital fractures and choroidal ruptures from errant elbows swinging into the unsuspecting and unprotected globes of teammates and opponents alike.
My guess is that my fellow ophthalmologists have had similar sad experiences of informing young players they will never fully recover their sight.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology and ophthalmologists in Europe are on record in calling for the use of protective eyewear in sports. Perhaps not completely surprising, however, has been the fairly steadfast refusal of athletes to seriously consider wearing polycarbonate sports goggles.
The young male athlete feels strong and invincible and is not always the most mature and thoughtful member of our species (I cite U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte as a case in point). To make the use of eye protection a reality, something more is required.
The recent attention devoted to chronic traumatic encephalopathy might be instructive. Tremendous focus has been placed upon football players who have experienced difficulties as the result of repeated head trauma. Many new rules have been introduced to protect against such injuries and penalize players who make contact with an opposing player's helmet.
The NFL will spend a billion dollars on the problem.
But the estimate of the number of affected individuals, ranging from “dozens” (The New York Times) to 5,000 (trial lawyers) makes this problem a literal drop in the bucket compared with permanently vision-impairing eye injuries.
Will it take lawyers and the threat of large payouts by professional sports organizations to institute eyewear and set the example for young players?
• U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Sports and Recreational Eye Injuries, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2000