Meet the female rangers trying to save South Africa’s rhinos By Aryn Baker/Balule Nature Reserve

THE MOON HAD JUST CLEARED THE HORIZON OVER SOUTH Africa’s Balule Nature Reserve one night in late Septem­ber when 22-year-old Leitah Mkhabele heard the sound of poachers crashing through the underbrush. They must have clipped a hole in the fence, thought Mkhabele, as she and her patrolling partner, 24-year-old Nkateko Mzimba, crept closer. Mzimba radioed to base for backup. The noise alerted the men, who turned in their direction. Mkha­bele raised her weapon—a canister of pepper spray—then paused. In the dark, she couldn’t tell what was slung over the first man’s shoulder. Was it a gun, or a coil of wire to set a snare? She did a quick calculation. If it was a gun, she might be shot before the poacher got within range of her pepper spray. So she ran.

The poachers fled before backup arrived. Mkhabele and Mzimba were frustrated that the trespassers had gotten away, but to their bosses, they did exactly what they were supposed to: they proved that the Black Mambas, a nearly all-women antipoaching unit created to protect the reserve’s rhinos, could keep poachers out of the park. Still, says Mkha­bele, “It would have felt good to shoot the guys who keep try­ing to kill our rhinos.”

The Black Mambas represent one of the newest attempts to stem a poaching epidemic that threatens to cause the ex­tinction of wild rhinos within a generation. By deploying women as scouts instead of men with guns, Balule warden and Black Mambas founder Craig Spencer has changed the rules in the ongoing war between commercial poachers and wildlife protectors.

It’s a war conservationists are losing. Of the estimated 28,000 rhinos left in the wild, approximately 80% are in South Africa—and they’re far from safe. At least 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year, up from 13 in 2007. Rising incomes in Vietnam and China are driving demand for rhino horn, which, despite scientific research to the contrary, is believed to cure ailments from hangovers to cancer. With a street value of more than $65,000 a kilogram in Asia, the illegal trade in rhino horn has attracted interna­tional criminal syndicates wielding a smuggling infrastruc­ture that rivals drug cartels’. At the current rate, South Africa will see more rhinos killed for their horns than born within the next few years. Rhinos, says Mkhabele, “deserve to sur­vive. They shouldn’t be killed for something that is not true.”

In order to stem the carnage, South African conserva­tionists and law-enforcement bodies have deployed heav­ily armed guards, surveillance planes, drones, canine units, tracking devices and even horn-mounted spy cameras. Pri­vate game-reserve operators have shaved down their rhinoc­eroses’ horns to make them less attractive targets. (Like fin­gernails and horse hooves, rhino horn can be cut in a painless

 

20 TIME October 26, 2015

‘They say women can’t work in the bush. So I am very proud of us here, because we are working in the bush. Without guns, as women. It means we are strong.’

nkateko mzimba, 24-year-old member of the Black Mambas

a shot against those guys that night. They would have been hopelessly slaughtered.” Not only are they chal­lenging poachers, they are taking on stereotypes, says Mzimba. “They say women can’t work in the bush. So I am very proud of us here, because we are working in the bush. Without guns, as women. It means we are strong.”

Their most important role, how-


< Black Mambas on patrol at the Balule Nature Reserve in northern South Africa

ever, isn’t in the reserve, but in teaching the value of wildlife to residents of the impoverished townships surrounding Balule and Kruger National Park where many poachers originate. Many locals see wildlife sanctuaries as the preserve of white and wealthy tourists. They resent the fact that they cannot graze their cattle in the reserves, or hunt game freely like their forebears did.

The Black Mambas, who were re­cruited from the same neighborhoods, try to counter that perception. Spen­cer chose to hire women because he thought they would be better at bring­ing the conservation message home. Belinda Mzimba, who joined the Mam­bas with her cousin Nkateko Mzimba, makes a point of telling students about South Africa’s “Big Five”—the lions, el­ephants, rhinos, buffalos and leopards without which no safari is complete. “I tell them, ‘When you grow up, you don’t need to go to poaching, because the Big Five animals will earn the money.’” Jobs come from tourism, she explains, and without the Big Five, the tourists won’t come. “You can’t be a tour guide, a field guide, if there is no nature left.”

spencer says the Mambas have played a significant role in reduc­ing snare traps and keeping poachers from setting up camp in the privately run reserve. But it is uncertain that their successes can be tailored to fit other areas. Rhinos may be safe in Bal- ule’s 400 sq km, but once they cross the open border into Kruger, with its 19,500 sq km of unfenced savanna, they are far more vulnerable. To replicate the Mambas’ successes across an area that is roughly the size of Israel would require thousands of recruits. As it is, Spencer spends about $20,000 a month on secu­rity just for Balule, and he’s still lost five rhinos in the past two years.

Rhino-conservation projects work­ing with higher-tech solutions are com­ing up against similar financial barriers. The antipoaching organization Protect has developed a device that combines heart-rate monitors, GPS tracking de­vices and tiny video cameras that can be embedded in a rhino’s horn. If a rhi­
no’s heartbeat spikes or goes flat, rang­ers know where to send a team. “All these antipoaching units do a phenom­enal job,” says Protect director Steve Piper. “The trouble is that they have to patrol vast areas.” But in order to be ef­fective, every adult rhino would have to wear a device. Even if costs come down low enough to make that pos­sible (working prototypes run in the thousands of dollars), monitoring in­frastructure is likely to be beyond most nations’ capacity^

But what if more money were avail­able for conservation? When the Con­vention on the International Trade in Endangered Species convenes in Johan­nesburg next year, South Africa is ex­pected to endorse a one-off lifting of the 38-year-old ban against trade in rhino horns so that it can sell a government stockpile worth more than $1.36 billion and invest the funds in rhino protec­tion. Rhino breeders want to take it a step further, legalizing global trade so they can farm rhinos for the horns, like sheep for their wool. They argue that by regulating trade in rhino horn, they can meet Asia’s demand, undercut the poaching syndicates and cover the costs of rhino security.

For some conservationists, it’s a per­suasive argument, albeit one borne from failure. But if we allow the industrial farming of a wild animal, how much has really been achieved, asks ecolo­gist Jason Gilchrist at Edinburgh’s Na­pier University. “Why bother saving the rhino if it isn’t wild anymore?”

For Mkhabele, the solution has to start with the men who earn a pittance risking their lives to deliver horns to traffickers. Every poacher she ques­tions says he’s doing it out of despera­tion. “They won’t stop unless they run out,” says Mkhabele. “After rhinos, they will go for the elephants. After the ele­phants, they will go for other things.” In Asia, there is a big market for lion bone. Rumors are swirling that giraffe parts can cure AIDS. “There will always be a reason to poach, until we make people understand that without our animals, South Africa is nothing.” That’s where the Black Mambas come in. They may not be able to stop poachers with pep­per spray alone. But they can stop them with education.

PUTIN’S SYRIA GAMBLE By Simon Shuster/Berlin

ON sept. 30, the autumn session of Russia’s upper house of parliament was set to open with a grim docket. Next year’s budget had to be slashed and investments frozen if the Russian economy was to survive a sharp drop in global oil prices and the cor­rosive effect of Western sanctions. No doubt it would have been a dreary day if President Vladimir Putin had not sent his chief of staff to put a new item on the agenda. Closing the hall to reporters, Sergei Ivanov asked the lawmakers to allow Russian warplanes to start bombing Syria. They obliged with a quick and unanimous vote in favor, and air strikes began a few hours later. No one had much interest in discussing the economy after that.

For world leaders once again tasked with trying to decode a Putin swerve—this time plunging into a

bloody and intractable civil war in the Middle East— there were a few theories. He needed to prop up Syr­ian President Bashar Assad, his faltering ally in Da­mascus, and protect Russia’s naval base on the Syrian coast, its only connection to the Mediterranean. But the Kremlinology in Western capitals underplayed the less obvious domestic pressures that shaped Pu­tin’s decision to embark on Russia’s most complex military intervention since the disastrous Soviet in­vasion of Afghanistan more than 35 years ago. Rather than just acting as a global spoiler by unleashing his military in Syria, Putin was trying to end Russia’s ec­onomically crippling isolation from the West.

This is how the Kremlin sees it: In Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group known as ISIS has con­quered vast tracts of territory since 2013. Millions as Syria continues to sink into chaos, as the Tali­ban gains new territory in Afghanistan and as Iraq struggles to fight ISIS, an ignored war at the other end of the Arabian Peninsula has created a humani­tarian crisis that threatens to become one of the most severe in the world.

Never a stable country, Yemen has been unrav­eling since the Houthis—a Shi’ite religious minor­ity that has long demanded a greater say in how the country is governed—took control of the capi­tal of Sana’a in September 2014 and placed Presi­dent Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi under house ar­rest. Hadi, formerly Vice President to dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who governed Yemen from 1978 until 2012, fled the country in March, and a coalition of 10 Arab nations led by Yemen’s northern neighbor and Sunni power Saudi Arabia launched an air cam­paign to counter the Houthi forces.

The Saudi-led air strikes were nominally intended to allow Hadi to return and restore stability, but an­alysts say they are really an attempt to assert Sunni power against Shi’ite Iran, which has in the past lent both financial and logistical support to the Houthis. But while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations see this war as part of an ongoing proxy fight against Iran—just as the civil war in Syria has become—the extent of Tehran’s involvement is disputed by some. “A large question mark remains over the extent to which Tehran … [has] funded or armed the group,” a report from British think tank Chatham House con­cluded in February.

Whether with Iranian support or not, the Houthis have proved difficult to dislodge after six months of strikes against their positions in the capital and in the province of Saada, their northern stronghold. The battle-seasoned Houthi militants, who fought several wars against Saleh’s regime during the 2000s, have holed up in mountainous regions of the coun­try’s north while coalition warplanes reduce whole neighborhoods in Sana’a and Saada to rubble.

What began as a regional conflict has now become a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe, as shown in

 

 

 

 

 

A young girl walks at al-Majoura, a camp for displaced people. The camp is running low on both food and water, even as more refugees seek protection from the war in Yemen

these photographs by Russian photojournalist Maria Turchenkova. While at least 2,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in the fighting since March, over 1 million have been driven from their homes, and millions more have been cut off from access to power, food and water. Refugee camps near the Saudi Ara­bian border are teeming with malnourished families. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitar­ian Affairs now says 12.9 million people are strug­gling to find food, 20.4 million are without access to safe water or sanitation, and over 15 million have no access to health care. A country that was already one of the world’s poorest before the war has all but collapsed.

But the war shows no sign of slowing down. Since Sept. 4, when around five dozen coalition soldiers were killed in a dawn ambush by Houthi militants, the Arab campaign has intensified in the air and on the ground. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt have sent thousands of troops to Yemen, upped the rate of air strikes and imposed a blockade on ships carrying aid and fuel. The U.N. has attempted to broker a peace deal, but analysts say the U.S. has been reluctant to take a firm line with Gulf allies still angry over the nuclear deal with Iran. As the bombs continue to drop and supplies to aid organizations dwindle, the prospect of a generational tragedy at the south­ern end of the Arabian Peninsula grows ever more likely.

31

 

against the influence of fundamental­ists: “We wanted a secular Bangladesh.”

Bloggers, journalists and analysts say that in response, the Islamists mounted a concerted campaign to portray all of those connected with the movement as atheists and anti-Islamic. The idea was to portray them as standing in opposition to the reli­gious beliefs of the vast majority of Ban­gladeshis, not just the fundamentalists. “In the Shahbag [movement], we never asked anyone’s religion,” says Jebtik, a practicing Muslim who says he was por­trayed as anti-Islamic in blog posts attrib­uted to him that appeared online in 2013 and 2014. “I never wrote them.”

Alongside the names of self-declared atheists such as Roy, Rahman, Das and Chattopadhya, Jebtik featured in a list of 84 Bangladeshi bloggers, at home and overseas, compiled by fundamentalist Is­lamist groups in 2013. In April that year, tens of thousands marched to chants of “God is great; hang the atheist bloggers!” (Other lists have emerged since, includ­ing one in late September published by Ansarullah Bangla Team, the local radical group suspected to be behind the blog­ger killings.) “Islamists tried to paint the movement as hostile to Islam, and suc­ceeded to an extent,” says Ahmed, the Dhaka Tribune publisher. While many of the blogs in the crosshairs of the fun­damentalists predate Shahbag, “the tar­geting of bloggers post-Shahbag is clearly coming as a response to that movement, and possibly even as a form of revenge killings,” says Ahmed. “I talk to a lot of writers and journalists, and I get the sense that there is a palpable fear like never before.”

Fanning those fears has been the checkered response of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The authorities have rounded up 20 suspects as they investigate the four blogger kill­ings this year. Hasina’s government has also banned Ansarullah Bangla Team. “Our law-enforcement agencies are very active,” Hasina told TIME in an inter­view in September. “The government is not sitting idle.”

But the Prime Minister, while insist­ing on her government’s commitment to a secular Bangladesh with space for all faiths, sends out an uncompromis­ing message to those like Roy, Chatto­padhya and others who identify with no religion: “Personally, I don’t support it, I don’t accept it. Why not? You have to have your faith. If anybody thinks they have no religion, O.K., it’s their personal view… But they have no right to write or speak against any religion.” Bangladesh’s bloggers, she adds, “should not hurt any­body’s [religious] feeling. When you are living in a society, you have to honor the social values, you have to honor the oth­ers’ feelings.” Hasina’s stance plays into the hands of the Islamists, says Riaz: “You cannot compromise on the principle of secularism like this. It puts the country on a dangerous path.”

It’s a compromise heavy with irony. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s first Prime Min­ister and President, popularly known as Bongobondhu, or Friend of Bengal. Muji­bur Rahman and his Awami League party set out to build a secular republic after in­dependence, but he was assassinated in a military coup in 1975. The army officers who attacked his home in Dhaka’s Dhan- mondi neighborhood wiped out all but two members of his immediate family: Hasina and her younger sister Rehana, who were abroad at the time.

Mujibur Rahman’s killing was fol­lowed by a decade and a half of coups and counter-coups, along with a rehabilitation of religious political forces that had been sidelined at the founding of the nation. Elections since the early 1990s have seen Hasina and the Awami League alternate in government with Khaleda Zia, the widow of a former Bangladeshi dictator, and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). While the Awami League presents itself as the keeper of the secular flame, the BNP is allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami, the coun­try’s main Islamist political party. (After Chattopadhya’s killing, a Jamaat leader

‘I talk to a lot
of writers and
journalists, and I get
the sense that there
is a palpable fear
like never before

—K. Anis Ahmed, Dhaka Tribune publisher

condemned the attack, telling the IANS news agency that the murder “proved that the government has totally failed to pro­vide security to its citizens.”)

When Hasina returned to power with a sweeping electoral victory in 2008, she set up the special tribunals at the center of the Shahbag movement. Jamaat-e-Islami had opposed the country’s 1971 split from Pakistan, and a number of its leaders were implicated in war crimes. And yet, even as it prosecuted Islamists, the govern­ment also cracked down on bloggers and writers. The list of 84 bloggers compiled by Islamist groups in 2013 was handed in to the government, which had set up a panel to monitor blogs and social media for antireligious posts. Four bloggers ac­cused of insulting religious sentiments were detained by the authorities. “Be­cause these bloggers are called atheists, they are called critics of Islam, the gov­ernment fears that if it protects them, it would be labeled as a protector of athe­ists,” says Nasreen. “They worry about losing the support of conservative voters.”

FOR BLOGGERS like Jebtik, 37, that means a life on the edge. A week after Chattopadhya’s killing, he was at home in his fourth-floor apartment with his mother and two daughters when the in­tercom rang. It was the building security guard. Three men had come to the com­plex seeking donations for madrasahs— Islamic religious schools. The guard turned them away. But the men didn’t leave. “My mom took the intercom,” says Jebtik. “The guard was whispering on the phone, ‘Three madrasah people are here, and they don’t want to go, they’re not leaving.’”

Jebtik’s mother panicked—his name was second only to Chattopadhya’s on a recent blogger hit list. She locked the doors and told him to hide in the bath­room. Jebtik rang his wife, who was out buying groceries, telling her to stay away. Then he phoned a friend, also a blogger, who lives two blocks away, to come and check out the men downstairs.

By the time the friend arrived, the men had left. “Later we heard that it began raining when the men came and probably they were waiting for it to stop,” says Jebtik. “This is our life now in Bangladesh.” —With reporting by farid hossain/dhaka

QUICK TAKE China’s growing deadly addiction By Hannah Beech

HOW

Developed by Benjamin Hubert of U.K. design studio Layer, the app will track users’ daily carbon footprints using a Fitbit-like device that measures everything from your restaurant order to how far you walk to the lights you use at home (which it will remind you to turn off).

WHEN

Worldbeing aims to launch in
2017, with plans to link the
software to retailers, enabling
users to estimate their output in
advance. “The longer you use it
for, the more attuned it becomes
to your lifestyle,” says Hubert.

WHY

The developers hope the app will
serve as a social network in which
friends can urge one another to
fight climate change. The goal,
they say, is “empowering you to
make better decisions.”

BIG IDEA

Green piece

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, which should you buy at the grocery store, an apple or a banana? A wearable app called Worldbeing, currently in development, aims to answer that question and others that might cross an eco-conscious mind.

—Julie Shapiro

STICKY

FINGERS

Stealing may be just
a phase, according
to research by
economist Geoffrey
Fain Williams of
Transylvania University.
His study reveals that
a surprising number
of young people have
nabbed something for
nothing—but they’re
not usually repeat
offenders.

Iin6

Proportion of the 8,000
teens and young adults
surveyed who reported
stealing something in
the past year

$37.50

Median value of a theft;
since it was under
$50, researchers
considered it
petty theft

liri’5

Proportion of males
who reported stealing,
vs. 1 in 10 females;
Williams writes that the
numbers may reflect
the social stigma of
stealing

24

Age when most young thieves tend to stop their pilfering habits

<5%

Percentage of young people who continue to steal for more than a year. Why do they stop? They realize the risk or attain emotional maturity, according to researchers.

—Tanya Basu

TO LIVE IN CHINA, HOME TO MORE THAN 300 million smokers, is to marinate in a haze of tobacco fumes. Now a new study pub­lished in the medical journal the Lancet has found that to live in China is, all too often, to die from cigarette smoke. By 2050, smoking could lead to 3 million deaths a year in China, and if rates don’t fall, at least half of Chinese males could eventually die from their nico­tine habit—what the Lancet calls a “growing epidemic of premature death.”

Although smoking is declining worldwide, two-thirds of Chinese men light up, according to the study. (A relatively small fraction of Chi­nese women smoke.) And while luxury-ciga­rette cartons are a common gift during Chinese holidays, an average pack costs little more than a dollar. Even the poorest Chinese can afford to
smoke. And why shouldn’t they? Cigarette com­panies advertise in schools and health clinics.

The Chinese government knows it has a medical crisis on its hands, even if many Chi­nese men still consider smoking an accept­able social rite. As of this summer, smoking was banned in public indoor spaces in Bei­jing, a prohibition that is not always enforced. Still, the world’s largest tobacco company, China National Tobacco Corp., which churns out more than 2.5 trillion cigarettes a year for dozens of domestic brands, is owned by none other than the Chinese government. In fact, 7% of the state’s revenue comes from tobacco. That’s an addiction that may be even harder to quit than smoking.

Beech is TIME’S China bureau chief

VERBATIM ‘Today’s Republiccfn hard-liners are angry, loud and insistent on getting their way. They are not conservatives— they are revolutionaries who all but say as much while they rail against what they call the Establishment.’

 

17, died of a brain injury three days after hurting his head in a game. Earlier this season, Bui report­edly had what his school called a mild concussion but was cleared by a doctor to resume playing.

“I don’t see how a reasonable person would argue that we should count pitches to protect the elbow but not count hits to protect the brain,” says Stefan Duma, a professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech. Duma’s research has shown that football players as young as 7 have sustained head impacts at forces similar to those in a car crash.

Here’s how hit counts would work. The goal is to track every hit to the head at a certain level of force in both practices and games. That can be done by outfitting helmets with sensors. Then we need to determine how many shots a player can sustain before sitting out. There is no magic number, but a good starting point could be limiting high schoolers to 90 blows in a week exceeding 20 G’s—roughly equivalent to the whiplash from a mild fender bender. Eric Nauman, a biomedical-engineering professor at Purdue, suggests that number on the basis of the school’s brain-imaging research, which found that almost every high school player hit at this rate or greater showed evidence of brain injury, even if he didn’t have concussion symptoms.

None of the leading football organizations is ready to sign on. Dr. Mitchel Berger, a neuro­surgeon and member of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, says, “It’s a leap of faith to as­sume that this is going to provide us with any de­finitive information to help us right now better determine things like return to play or whether a player is susceptible to another concussion or not.”

On the college level, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, said it was researching the effectiveness of sensors “so that we can make a science-driven decision about head-impact ex­posure.” Pop Warner, which runs youth leagues across the nation, says it’s open to the idea but doesn’t believe the technology is ready.

Recognizing that the very act of playing can have lasting consequences cuts to the heart of foot­ball’s problem with traumatic brain injuries. “Foot­ball culture is resistant to counting hits, since peo­ple don’t think they’re worth counting,” says Chris Nowinski, a former college player who runs the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

The science makes it clear that they are. Last month, researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University said 87 of 91 brains of deceased NFL players showed signs of CTE, a devastating neurological disease believed to result from blows to the head. “There’s more than enough evidence to say we need a hit count, right now,” says Nauman. No hit-count proposal will be perfect. But neither are pitch counts. Baseball started some­where. Why can’t football do the same?              □

VERBATIM

‘Today’s
Republiccfn
hard-liners
are angry, loud
and insistent
on getting
their way.
They are not
conservatives—
they are
revolutionaries
who all but
say as much
while they rail
against what
they call the
Establishment.’

JOHN danforth, former Senator and author of The Relevance of Religion, on TIME.com

 

CHARTOON

Before Twitter

 

JOHN ATKINSON, WRONG HANDS

18 TIME October 26, 2015

Dell builds a $67 billion empire

To an open democratic pro­cess. The quartet has helped Tunisia become the most successful Arab Spring country. Its efforts were gal­vanized in 2013, when two political assassinations shook the country. That’s when the Tunisian people de­cided that enough was enough. There is still hard work to be done, but the Nobel is a signal of confidence that Tunisia is on the right path.

—GORDON GRAY

Gray served as U.S. ambassador to Tunisia from 2009 to 2012 lay claim to the earliest modern humans.

WON

The prestigious Man Booker Prize, by Marlon James, for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. The Jamaican author will receive about $80,000.

ORDERED

By a Milwaukee jury, that firearms retailer Badger Guns pay $5.73 million to two police officers who were shot with a gun purchased at one of its stores. It’s a rare instance of a gun store being held liable for negligently selling a firearm.

TECHNOLOGY

Dell builds a $67 billion empire

ON OCT. 12, DELL ANNOUNCED plans to acquire IT provider EMC Corp. in the biggest pure technology tie-up ever. The deal—which would create a giant worth an estimated $67 billion at a time of massive shifts in the technology world—is a gambit by CEO Michael Dell (below) to trans­form the company he started in the mid-1980s from his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin:

DEATH OF PCs Dell, now 50, got his name into millions of American homes by selling custom computers directly over the Internet—a revolutionary idea at the time. Dell still makes home computers, but PC sales have been steadily falling for years, according to research firm IDC. Once the world’s top seller of PCs, Dell now trails rivals Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard.

THE CLOUD Dell has been trying for several years to turn his company into a provider of diverse business- technology services. Though selling such high-end gear is lucrative, many companies are increasingly switch­ing to using cloud computing from the likes of Amazon. Merging with EMC, which has a broad range of cloud- based businesses, could help Dell keep pace.

BUCKING TRENDS Big

breakups, not mergers, are the rage these days.

Such moves are partly a response to stockholder campaigns. Dell, however, took his company private in a 2013 leveraged buyout worth $24.4 billion.

That move insu­lated Dell from Wall Street’s de­mands. —ALEX FITZPATRICK

 

 

Teammates carry the football jersey of Ben Hamm, 16, who died after a Sept. 11 game in Oklahoma

AS THE RISKS OF BRAIN TRAUMA from playing football have become clearer, leagues have cracked down on the bone-rattling thwacks that were once celebrated by cheering specta­tors. Yet researchers increasingly be­lieve that head trauma is more likely to result from multiple—and often perfectly clean—hits rather than a sin­gle shot. Which means the danger of playing football is as much in the ac­cumulation of small hits to the head as it is in the stomach-churning big one. And yet no major organization at any level of the game limits the number of blows players take to the head.

So here’s a modest proposal: regu­late hits to the head in football just as we count pitches in baseball.

The concept of limiting a pitcher’s throws to prevent injury has become

gospel, from Little League—where kids must leave the game after reach­ing set caps—to the pros, despite a lack of scientific consensus on how it actually preserves vulnerable arms.

Yet in football, where brains are at stake, there is no similar system for counting hits. The current high school season reinforces the tragic case for why that needs to change.

On Sept, n, Ben Hamm, a junior at Wesleyan Christian School in Okla­homa, collapsed on the sideline after being involved in a tackle. The play appeared routine, according to Rocky Clark, the school’s superintendent. Eight days later, Hamm died, having suffered an apparent head injury. (The medical examiner has yet to announce a cause of death.) He was 16. In Seattle less than a month later, Kenney Bui,

► FOOTBALL

We count pitches to save arms. It’s time to track hits to save lives

By Sean Gregory