Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Why the NFL may not exist 50 years from now
This evening I watched a two hour special on Frontline (you can watch the show here) that investigated the National Football League and its two-decade battle against various members of the medical community over the issue of head injuries.
The program was especially disturbing inasmuch as both of my sons, ages 14 and 13 are football players, along with several of their friends whose families I essentially talked into playing this sport.
I do not consider myself to be one of these hysterical parents who wants to save his kids from all of life's dangers. I played football, had concussions and other injuries and still play pretty rough backyards games to this day.
However, it seems we are just at the tip of the iceberg in the question of whether football causes CTE - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathty. According to one doctor who has investigated the brain tissue of 46 former NFL players, 45 of them had CTE. The program also pointed out dead former college and even high school players who had this degenerative disease.
Of course, as other doctors pointed out, there are thousands of former NFL players walking around that are not showing signs of depression, rage, memory loss and suicidal thoughts, but nevertheless, the NFL is in trouble. Big trouble.
Starting with the $765 million settlement with former players who sued the NFL, claiming the league had known all along about the effects of concussions on long-run health, the NFL is now facing an even bigger threat than lawyers.
Already we are seeing more and more parents of talented athletes picking soccer or basketball or other less violent sports.
All it is going to take is enough parents who are legitimately scared for their son's well-being to pull the plug on football, to cause the pipeline of college talent to the NFL to dry up over time.
Over the next several decades I think we can expect to see fewer and fewer players from better educated families showing up on football fields. Increasingly, the NFL is going to be filled with players from lower income, less-educated, less concerned families (not that all three of these are connected). But this may still not be enough of a supply to keep the NFL vibrant over time.
Fifty years from now the NFL may be a fringe sport with MMA/Roman gladiator-type participants, with television audiences that are much smaller and much more in love with the gore and brutality that the sport would continue to bring.
Unless the NFL changes.
Those changes are going to have to center around rule changes, and, if possible, technological changes that have helmet sensors that measure impacts so that players who need to come out of a game can do so without being knocked out cold.
In the meantime, I am going to have my sons watch the Frontline show and listen to them explain what they want to do going forward. If I just tell them, "Until more evidence comes in, you are not playing", I may be robbing them of their dreams in an irrational manner.
If a former player and huge NFL fan like me is having these thoughts, I can only imagine what other moms and dads are thinking.
The NFL better take notice.