Friday, February 10, 2012

The End of Football?

I love football*. Probably too much. I love football Sundays. I love fantasy football. Chris and I waste a lot of time during the season emailing about football. I have the Green Bay and Milwaukee newspapers bookmarked, and check their Packers sections every day, even in June.

*For purposes of this blog, I refer only to the NFL. College football sucks.

So what will happen when the sport dies?

I read this article on Grantland that examined that very question, one that's been rattling around in my mind for the last few years as we learn more and more about the effects of concussions on players as they age.

The article looks at the economic impact, starting with lawsuits that will leave insurance companies balking at covering players.

But even if the financial model survives, what about the talent?

I have two boys, who in May will be 5 and 2. The older one loves sports, and since the younger one idolizes him, he loves sports too. Without me even forcing them into it, they have adopted sports and will have sports play a big role in their lives.

But as we start looking at what we want them to play, for me, football isn't even in the equation. If they came to me and begged me to play, I'd probably relent. But if they don't ask, I won't be suggesting it. And so far, to my relief, they haven't asked.

A few months ago I had lunch with a local sports radio host. He played football in college and bounced around NFL practice squads for a few years before calling it quits and going into radio. He's about my age, and by all accounts is doing well. He has a good career, he's lost all his football weight and is at a normal size, and is a well-grounded guy.

But physically, he's had surgeries on almost every joint, on almost every part of his body. He says he feels 20 years older than he is. And he considers himself lucky. I asked him if he'd want his son to play, and he didn't even think twice: no.

We just know too much about the impact of the sport now. Where I used to love the huge hits, now they make me cringe. I can't imagine subjecting my kids to that.

As more and more players reveal the impacts of the game, I can't help but wonder how many other parents will be like me: loving the game on TV on Sundays, and hoping like hell my kids don't want anything to do with it.

How many parents will start to steer their kids elsewhere? How many athletic kids will go into basketball or soccer instead? Where will that leave the game?

It will leave it in a scary direction. Kids from the suburbs will have other options. Kids from the inner city won't. Is that what football's destiny is, middle class suburban guys like me cheering on a league comprised almost entirely of inner city kids who are shortening their lives for my enjoyment?

The NFL is a juggernaut, a license to print money. But when you have a sport parents are afraid to put their kids into, the clock is ticking

1 comment:

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