Russell has a pretty good eye for a trend. Recently he was heard to boldly predict that — notwithstanding record ratings and fantasy football websites and huge sales of t-shirts, team jerseys, and hats — the NFL is on the down slope and, ultimately, doomed.
Why? Injuries, of course. The players are simply too big, too strong, and moving too fast. The result is countless players sidelined with concussions, destroyed shoulders, buckled knees, and other year-ending and career-ending injuries — and in the case of concussions, potential future health consequences that are dire, indeed. Already there is discussion about changing the rules of the game — specifically, to get rid of kickoffs, where players run into each other at full ramming speed — to try to lessen the injury toll.
Russell predicts a ripple effect. Parents will decide that their kids shouldn’t play football because it’s just too dangerous. High schools and middle schools will stop offering football because of liability concerns, just as many high schools have forsworn traditional track and field events like the pole vault, the javelin, and the discus because of liability risks. It will be tougher for colleges to give up football, because it is both a moneymaker and a huge spur to alumni pride and endowment fund donations, but after some horrible injuries and crushing lawsuits take their toll, colleges, too, will begin to drop the game. And then . . . who will feed the NFL pipeline? Samoans? Russians? Australians? Kids from poor families who see football as their only chance to get out of a situation of extreme poverty?
And it’s starting already. CBS News reported today that, in the past five years, the number of kids playing football in high school has dropped by 25,000. With a few more big-money concussion lawsuits, and a few more high profile injuries and even deaths, the number of schools dropping football will only increase.
I think Russell’s right on this. I really enjoy watching football, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that, in seemingly every professional game, players are carted off the field or are being given concussion examinations. The injury impact on college ball isn’t quite as bad, but with the ever-greater emphasis on strength and conditioning and increasing speed more devastating hits, and more resulting injuries, are inevitable. So what do you do? Prevent super-big, super-fast guys from playing? Blame the protective gear that can be weaponized — like plastic helmets — and go back to the leatherhead days?
If you like football, the reality might be: enjoy it while it lasts.