The End of Football

I am a football fan; I love high school football and the NFL, but I am not much of a college football fan. This post has been on my mind for sometime now. Chris Borland’s recent decision to retire from the NFL after one very successful season reignited my thoughts.

How will the end occur?

The end will not be an overnight occurrence. The process is already underway with a number of former and prominent NFL players filing suit against the NFL. Retired players often cite not being informed of future brain trauma. These players once stated they feared not being able to walk upstairs or get out of bed one day, but many were caught off guard by what is now called CTE, which is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The end will start with little league football players. Parents and guardians are now electing to either wait until their sons and daughters are older to play football, or they are encouraging them not to play. NBA player Lebron James recently announced he would not allow his sons to play football, citing health related concerns. With parents now directing their kids in a different direction, the early talent pool shifts to other sports. Thus, high school programs are the first to feel the impact. Very few middle school students will matriculate to the next level of play, forcing high schools to drop the program for other sports. In states where football is a big deal, the transition will look different. Schools will be reluctant to drop the program, but the talent and level of play will dissipate, creating greater disinterest. Middle class families will be ahead of lower income families due to means and information.

What About Colleges?

Programs outside of the Deep South, California, and Southwest will experience the impact first. However, much like high school programs in areas outside of the Deep South, DI type schools will eventually feel the impact. They will slowly see the decline of 4 and 5 star athletes. This will be noted in their football camps and via scouting. DI programs will recruit athletes they normally would not have recruited in the past. This shift along with declining interest in areas outside of the Deep South, California, and Southwest, will force smaller programs to close. This will later be seen at other levels and schools in different regions.

NFL

With a number of former players filing lawsuits and a diminishing pool to draft athletes, the NFL slowly transitions into a stage that looks more like boxing. I suspect the NFL will create programs and use greater safety precautions to garner more interest, but in the end, those actions will fail. Fans of the NFL have already grown concerned and annoyed by changes made. Even NFL players have voiced concerns related to new safety changes.

One player in this ESPN interview had this to say:

“I admire [Borland] for what he did. I admire him for being man enough and smart enough to know what’s more important in life,” Walker told ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor. “If I had to do it over again, and I knew I’d end up in the amount of pain I’m always in, there’s no way in hell I’d play football again. With all of my injuries, including my neck, I took a chance of breaking my neck and ending up in a wheelchair. I look back and ask, ‘What was I thinking?’ ”

“Every individual has to make his own decision, and there’s so much money to be made these days. But is money more important, or is your life more important? I could never see myself hurting myself, but there have been times when I’ve thought, ‘God, I wish you’d just end this right now.’ I don’t sleep, I’m in constant pain, I haven’t felt my feet in 20 years. I feel like there are times when my whole body shuts down. Sometimes I feel like I’m 90 years old.

“[Commissioner] Roger Goodell is a good friend of mine. But I want the NFL to tell truth about what’s happening with players, and I think they sugarcoat everything.”

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8 thoughts on “The End of Football

  1. Interesting topic and your perspective shades some light on several different issues, I wasn’t fully aware of. Lawsuits, diminishing pool to draft players, unsatisfied fans and extreme health issues are serious problems. I agree, and I’m not so sure the NFL can continue to sustain the mounting problems that will only increase with time.

    Alternatives. Boxing is now replaced by UFC. NFL possibly replaced by MLS.

    I too, am a Football fan, but also love Soccer and the growth of the MLS (Major League Soccer) is really taking shape. We now have, Soccer specific stadiums, big name players from various countries coming to play in the league and the average attendance already exceeds the NBA and NHL. Now, the MLS just needs to increase it’s TV revenue tenfold and now you have a sports that could potentially usurp the NFL.

    Is this wishful thinking or overzealous infatuation? Fact is, the MLS is a viable league that is growing. NFL is the heart of America for now, but only time will tell.

    • The problem is that football helmets (like boxing gloves) aren’t designed so much to protect against blows to the head, as to allow a user to simply hit harder. The question is whether technology can effectively achieve the former. As George Will said, “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

      Regardless, i’m not sanguine on the concept that football is going away anytime soon, certainly not within a generation.

      As to the pretenders to the throne, I would suggest MLS is growing more because of the influx of Latino immigrants to the US as opposed to it’s embrace by what might traditionally be considered mainstream America. Lots of kids play soccer in this country, but lots of kids don’t keep playing soccer. Soccer may indeed draw 20,000 or 30,000 fans to a game, but soccer doesn’t play 84 or 162 games a season either. Granted, if I may, soccer and, even more so, baseball (I think) require a certain amount more thought, concentration and strategy to follow and to play successfully than football. And you don’t have to be “supermen” to play either sport. Baseball especially, is a team sport requiring individual skill and excellence. Sadly, baseball clearly lost it’s (perceived) innocence as “America’s game” in the 80’s and 90’s (never to be recovered) when steroids in baseball drove fans away—in droves. Nobody likes a cheater and nobody likes it even more when authorities clearly and knowingly look the other way while it went on, simply because they made more money.

  2. I’m not so sure. There’s feelings that are not talked about in public circles for various reasons. The NFL and the NBA have some serious perception issues and middle America is growing increasingly disenchanted with both leagues. The current political climate has become extremely vulnerable to bad media press. Football, basketball players are plagued with criminal behavior, rape, theft, murder, extortion, kidnapping, simple thuggery, the proliferation of the Hip Hop culture in both sports, you named it, they do it. The owners are looked at with discontent and advocates of thuggery. The image of professional athletes in both sports is very tainted. That alone has caused a cultural change.

    Some cities such as Portland have no professional football team and are more soccer driven than any other sport. Portland’s NBA team is not the best and I’m not so sure that the fan base has any love affair. I do know, they’re MLS team is adored. Seattle’s MLS team is loved, just as much as their NFL team. Both cities are become more soccer communities in the true sense. Many other cities are starting to do the same, but slowly following that path.

    The sports, cultural rift will be more on a socioeconomic level. Hip Hop culture and the NBA, NFL alliance has alienated millions of Americans and they are simply tired of it. Hip Hop and sports is not the American sporting experience, and I think this alone with the other complexities already mention, will cause some kind of major change. I’m not so sure what that change will look like in it’s finality, but we’re already seeing some of these changes, i.e. Portland, Seattle, and LA to a lessor degree. Middle America is looking for the sporting experience that excites them again, without the social degradation. I agree, it’ll be a generation occurrence, but the current situation is not sustainable.

  3. As much as I try to find a place for soccer, I struggle under the current construct; it is greatly popular as a youth sport in New England and out West — which is a start (they also have pro teams); its popularity has grown in Texas. If there were no football, those who once played would migrate to soccer since both are usually fall sports. We struggle in this sport against the rest of the world because their best athletes play soccer; we have too many competing sports — like football. The hip hop culture thing is very interesting; one I have not thought about before.

  4. Somehow football and basketball have become synonymous with hip hop culture. That’s established an awful perception of professional thuggery. It’s a huge perception issue, or maybe it’s not.

    I grew up in a time when athletes such Joe Greene, (Mean Joe Greene), Orenthal James Simpson, (O.J. Simpson or the Juice), Julius Erving, (Dr. J), James Augustus Jim, (Catfish Hunter) were just professional athletes. Their social problems were kept under the table for decades from the public eye. I mean, they were just regular dudes, who happen to be exceptional athletes. That was the perception back in the 70 and 80s.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I think it’s just as important as the issues you’ve discussed, because it’s talked about in closed circles.

  5. Nope — not at all off topic; in fact, I think your points are spot on. The best example is that of Michael Jordan. Man he was not a nice person. But those things were not as present as they have become. Social media and the hip hop age profit as well as promote 21st century sports. I think this is more true for basketball than football. That is a sport that depends on urban language. Thus, will those industries allow sports populated by a type of hip hop/urban style die?

  6. Yes, I’ve heard Michael Jordan is a real jerk. The perception is, he’s a mean guy. I agree hip hop and basketball go hand in hand unfortunately.

    Whether you hate soccer or not, it’s growing and quickly appealing to middle class suburbanites all across America. MLS just added the city of Minnesota to the list of expansion teams. New York has two teams now. California has two and will add two more. The league is planning on at least 30 teams, currently 20. Football may never go away, but we’ll see some kind of a change and the MLS will be right there to celebrate among the top three sports, if the current trend continues. Ongoing thuggery, mounting lawsuits, and debilitating injuries associated with the NFL are causing people to question.

  7. I do not think football will vanish. It is changing and has changed. Eddie’s point on the expansion of MLS is interesting. I live out West and can confirm that the sport is growing. I see so many black and Asian kids playing what is an international sport. Most of the world cannot relate to football.

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