Sunday, May 6, 2012

Will football die?

Two recent articles, both of which were good and interesting, popped up in light of Seau's death. We haven't even confirmed that he's shown signs of CTE. But his suicide - only a year removed from another suicide attempt - has pretty much said everything that needs to be said to spark a new round of questions and concerns about concussions in the sport.

Here's a Grantland article on what life without football would look like. 

Here's a ProFootballTalk article on how the game must evolve.

At this point I just don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that the game of football is a shell of what it is today in another 10-20 years. Most people scoff when someone suggests that football could be dead in the coming decades. But, as the Grantland article notes:

Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it's not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.
The problem that I I have is, most people - including the Grantland article - believe that if football as we know it is going to die, it will be due to lawsuits financially crippling the game. I don't believe it will happen quite like that. The lawsuits I do think clearly will be the sparkplug. 

But the path I see is a bit different. And it leads me to believe that the game will be fundamentally changed some time in the next 10-20 years, and the only question left will be whether people love the game as much as they do now or not. The path to me begins with the kids. Two Oblong Spheroid articles come to mind. Jim wrote one, linked. Patrick wrote the other, but I couldn't find it...I remember it distinctly though, because it sparked a debate in which I was clearly on the wrong side, that high school and kids' football in general would have to be significantly altered, and soon. I took the stance that the game shouldn't change, and it marked for me the beginning of a total attitude shift...I eventually landed on the right side here. 

 But that, to me, is the point of main change. The lawsuits, to me, won't kill the NFL. What I think they'll do is two things. 1) They're shining light on this issue, and showing how dangerous this game is. That's going to give parents pause as to whether or not they allow their kids to play. 2) They very well may wind up pointing at the youth leagues. 

Forget former NFL players suing the NFL. Imagine instead a group of parents suing high schools because their kids are showing signs of CTE. That second point is by far the more dangerous and likely to incite sweeping changes in an exceptionally short time. But the bottom line is, I don't think it's going to take long for first the talent field to thin due to fewer parents allowing their kids to play the game, and second for schools to limit if not ban hitting, which fundamentally shifts the way the game is played at lower levels, meaning the talent is completely different at the pro level, assuming the pro level doesn't shift as well. 

 At this point, claiming the game cannot possibly see a massive shift in the next quarter century is simply naive. More than that, I no longer think it's a question of if...I think it's a question of when football undergoes massive, sweeping changes. And once that happens, the question is, will the fans stay? That's the question I think no one can really predict.


  1. I'd say minor changes, stemming up from youth leagues, not massive ones over the next 25 years, but its hard to argue with the rest.

    I think it is premature at best, totally misguided at worst to link Seau to CTE. People commit suicides for all types of reasons and 95% of the time nobody else knows the 'real' reason, note or not.'

    I was really sad about Junior, he was one of my favorite players for a long long time.




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