At the session, I was dismayed to learn that life-changing head injuries from sports are not limited to NFL and NCAA players, but also can affect high
schoolers and even younger children. Moreover, while the symptoms of CTE are perhaps the most striking, repeated head trauma could cause many more subtle
This got me thinking of my main line of work, sex research. As it turns out, another group of work acquaintances of mine, based at the Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health in Toronto, has been working to ascertain the bases for pedophilia. Although no one can point to a simple cause-effect chain for any sexual orientation, the Toronto group, led by
psychologists Ray Blanchard and James Cantor, has found evidence that pedophiles, as a group, seem to have a greater history of childhood head trauma than
For example, a 2003 study of 685 men, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found
that "pedophilic patients reported more head injuries before age 13 than did the nonpedophilic patients." While it is true that the head injuries we are
now most concerned with in football occur after age 13, it is also true that most NFL and NCAA players and coaches (like Sandusky) are likely to have
started getting their heads game-bashed as children.
Moreover, the medical literature contains reports of the onset of "hypersexuality" and altered sexual preference - including the development of pedophilic behaviors - following brain injuries in adulthood. When I asked psychologist Ray Blanchard about
this, he expressed skepticism that this really represents a change of sexual orientation, given what researchers know about the nature of human
Blanchard said he instead thinks it is "more likely that brain injuries in adulthood disinhibit sexual behaviors (including dormant paraphilias) rather
than establishing them." In other words, after a brain injury, a man may no longer effectively suppress sexual desires he has already long had, and he may
lose the ability to stop himself from harming others he sexually desires.
A study published last year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported on eight men who in mid-life showed evidence of "acquired pedophilic behavior from brain disease." Because
some of these men also showed other forms of sexually abusive behavior, the authors of this report noted that certain brain injuries can result in "broader
disinhibition deficit or hypersexuality . . . not just focused on children." Indeed, a general association between brain injury and poor sexual impulse control has now
been well established.
Let's be clear: suffering brain injuries doesn't mean you'll become a pedophile, and a link between pedophilia and brain injuries doesn't mean we should
"excuse" or condone pedophilic behaviors. But all this does leave me wondering whether we need to consider the possibility that sports head injuries can
cause a much wider range of life-altering effects than is now being openly discussed. (And whether seminaries are rougher places than I've given them
Whether or not additional research bears out the theory that head injuries can contribute to pedophilic behavior, the two ongoing scandals in football -
repetitive head injuries and the possible cover-up of Sandusky's pedophilic activities at Penn State - do have one clear link: in both cases, those in
charge have taken big risks in playing with the idea of putting the game first and the well-being of youngsters second.