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ESPN speculates about the “death of football”

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While making the rounds on a slow, late Sunday afternoon, the NFL page at ESPN.com greeted me with this click-grabbing headline:  “Football Apocalypse?”  Given the massive withdrawal symptoms that many of us are feeling on this first weekend without pro football since Labor Day coupled with the return of The Walking Dead, I thought the article would have something to do with the short-term disappearance of the game and its impact on the millions who wandered aimlessly around their houses today with nothing to do.

Instead, the item speculates openly on the possible permanent disappearance of the game.

To get there, Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier (yep, I’d never heard of them, either) have cobbled together for the “Grantland” microsite an exercise in dot connection that begins with lawsuits arising from concussions and ends with football no longer existing.

I’ve got a fairly obvious bias on this one, but I still need to point it out.  I now make my living from football.  And I have a strong interest in seeing the sport become even more popular.  I also have spent nearly 40 years following the sport, and I hope to spend the next 40 (or more) doing the same.  Thus, I naturally am inclined to downplay anything that could prevent me from covering and following football.

That said, there are many flaws in the logic put forth by Cowen and Grier, starting with their efforts to set the mood for the potential extinction of football.  Here are a few of them.

“If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist,” they write.  And the NFL has continuously grown in popularity from the 30 years before and the 30 years after 1983, so what’s your point?

“The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits,” they write.  Given that the original version of Napster was fundamentally premised on the illegal dissemination of copyrighted musical content, the lawsuits, and the death of the original version of Napster, were inevitable.  The original version of football (you know, the one where they didn’t wear helmets at all and grew their hair long because they thought it would protect the skull) also no longer exists.

“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,” they write.  If any of those sports translated as well on TV as football does, they’d all still be marquee attractions.  Even before most people lost interest in boxing, whether due to an absence of compelling personalities in the sport, a chronic perception/reality of corruption, or the inherently barbaric nature of two men repeatedly punching each other in the head, the mainstream audience didn’t appreciate or enjoy the nuances of the so-called sweet science.  Instead, watching boxing was all about waiting for a knockdown and otherwise pretending to know what was happening through the flurry of activity that occurred when someone wasn’t in danger of getting knocked down.

Likewise, horse racing is an antiquated activity that can be fully appreciated only by being there, and baseball became America’s pastime in an era when there weren’t many ways to pass the time.

With the advent of television, football gradually became the most popular sport in the country, with more than 166 million tuning in for some portion of last Sunday night’s Super Bowl.  Today, as the national audience has shattered from three channels into a thousand options, only one event simultaneously pulls together a large chunk of the populace:  NFL football.

As to their contention that football is in peril, the biggest hole in Cowen and Grier’s theory comes from the presumption that the rash of lawsuits filed in recent months against the NFL automatically will spread to lower levels of the sport, and then strangle it.  Though a proliferation of civil complaints could happen, there are several important differences between lawsuits being filed against the NFL and lawsuits that would be filed against college, high school, and pee-wee programs.

First, as a matter of basic physics, the collisions are far less intense at the lower levels of the sport.  At the NFL level, the size and the speed and the intensity of the contact make brain injuries far more common.  Also, with more practices and more (and longer) games come more opportunities for impact.

Second, many of the former NFL players suing the league are motivated by resentment over the perception, legitimate or otherwise, that the men who made the game what it is aren’t receiving their fair share of the current financial windfall.  And so with no legal ability to try to strike a better deal for themselves after the fact, some players are looking for other ways to get that to which they believe they are morally entitled.

Third, while insurance policies would provide much of the compensation for any judgments or settlements at the non-NFL level, there’s not the same multi-billion-dollar pot of money to be raided.  With football more popular and successful than ever, lawyers who are in the business of staying in business target the biggest fish.  And the fish don’t get much bigger right now than in the NFL.

As to the potential death of football via the courtroom, Cowen and Grier also presume, prematurely if not incorrectly, that the lawsuits will be deemed to have actual merit.  Regardless of the maneuverings that occur before a trial begins, liability ultimately will be determined by a group of average Americans who will be at some level influenced by the reality that anyone with half a brain should know that banging the brain into other brains could cause injuries to said brains.  Though, as it relates to the NFL, there very well could be compelling evidence of secret studies that were hidden and/or twisted in order to conceal the true impact of chronic head trauma, it’s highly unlikely that any similar proof of shenanigans exists at the college, high school, and pee-wee levels.

Though concerns over head injuries could cause some helicopter parents to prevent their kids from doing anything that entails wearing a helmet of any kind (including flying a helicopter), the sport continues to thrive even after the fairly obvious link between chronic head trauma and an increased risk of long-term cognitive problems has officially become completely obvious.  Football has become a fundamental part of our shared experience, and boys, young men, and adult males will continue to be willing to assume the risk of playing.

As we’ve said before, our nation was founded by risk takers.  Millions risk their health and well-being every day in a wide variety of potentially dangerous jobs.  Others freely accept the possibility of injury and/or death arising from non-paying endeavors like riding a motorcycle, jumping out of a plane, climbing a wall of rock, and/or trying to kill with a gun a wide assortment of creatures that can kill humans without one.

But the biggest factor that Cowen and Grier ignore is that the NFL is trying to make the sport safer, from the top down.  The head is receiving more protection than ever, with perhaps the bigger risk to the NFL not the evaporation of the supply of future players but the alienation of fans who continue to want to see big hits and who complain loudly about efforts to make an inherently violent sport less violent.

Until there’s a way to identify the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy without carving into the brain and unless there’s evidence that even mild blows to the head that cause no concussion-like symptoms nevertheless create CTE, football will continue to thrive.  Even if the parade of presumptions and possibilities put forth by Cowen and Grier ultimate come to fruition, football will make whatever changes it has to make in order to endure.

Unlike other sports that have enjoyed their moments in the sun, football has become too big to not make whatever adjustments need to be made to ensure that the game is as safe as it possibly can be.  Though the game will never be completely safe, many jobs and hobbies aren’t completely safe.  Unless we’re all destined to walk around in plastic bubbles and pay money to watch people play chess, football isn’t going away.

And the folks at ESPN who place an article speculating on that possible demise of the sport that has made ESPN what it now is know that football is here to stay, or they wouldn’t have dropped Cowen and Grier’s article in the top center of the ESPN.com NFL page.

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96 Responses to “ESPN speculates about the “death of football””
  1. akhhorus says: Feb 12, 2012 9:01 PM

    Both Cowen and Kevin Grier are well known economists.

  2. thesportsguy52 says: Feb 12, 2012 9:02 PM

    ESPN Speculates about everything.

    And more.

  3. obithejedi says: Feb 12, 2012 9:06 PM

    You can tell the offseason is upon us when we get this type of article. I don’t know if I could suspend disbelief for this long enough to consider the possibility of football becoming extinct. As more and more medical studies are done on the affects football has on the human body strangely enough there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of players at any level. If someone doesn’t want to tempt fate or run the risk of suffering from certain afflictions then the choice is simple: don’t play. It is a game, a sport, something to be enjoyed. It is not required for anyone to don a set of pads and take a field. Everyone at the professional level is of legal age and could very well decide against signing a contract. So, at least at the NFl level, I don’t understand how litigation would end the game.

  4. tommccrossin says: Feb 12, 2012 9:07 PM

    I actually thought it was a good read.

  5. nomoreseasontix says: Feb 12, 2012 9:13 PM

    I thought it was a good read also. Pretty far fetched, though.
    Mike, you did a great job of blowing big holes in their theories.
    You should have been an attorney. I bet you’d be good at it….

  6. bearsrulepackdrool says: Feb 12, 2012 9:13 PM

    I think Victor Cruz “salsa” on the Grammy’s just about did it.

    This world is going soft, not just football. Hockey on its way too.

  7. kliplee says: Feb 12, 2012 9:22 PM

    “Second, many of the former NFL players suing the league are motivated by resentment over the perception, legitimate or otherwise, that the men who made the game what it is aren’t receiving their fair share of the current financial windfall. ”

    ——-

    Where else on Earth could someone who used to be affiliated with something that became successful expect to receive future money after they have moved on?

    Businessmen who sell their company right before it explodes into a huge financial success are not given this treatment. Think Roy Raymond.

    And for the most part, the NFL most likely became successful because of the game itself. Not the people that played it. They were going to find a way to fill the rosters of these teams one way or another.

    If anything, they only consider the argument anytime AFTER the NFL started selling jerseys with the Name and Number of the football player on it.

  8. mnfaninaz says: Feb 12, 2012 9:33 PM

    As much as I love the game of football, I absolutely could see it being banned eventually.

    It’s as dangerous a sport as there has ever been… because it has evolved to a point it can never return from. It may take a player dying on the field which is only a matter of time.

    As much as I love the game, I wouldn’t be too broken up if the game ceased to be… it’s too dangerous.

  9. steelerhypocrite says: Feb 12, 2012 9:37 PM

    If football “dies”, then sports in general is dead. Nobody give a crap about basketball or hockey, and baseball is just too long. Of course, the liberals are always pushing the ‘feel good’ sport of soccer down our throats…

  10. prrbrr says: Feb 12, 2012 9:37 PM

    Mike, the data shows that younger players are more at risk because their brains are developing and even though the velocity of a NFL type hit does not exist, it doesn’t take nearly as much to cause damage. It’s actually the repetitive nature during the younger years that leaves these guys so exposed. Most play from 5 y/o on to 30….25 years of straight head knocking. The lawsuits will come from a parent of a deceased or severely injured kids whose coaches wouldn’t listen to the law. Or knuckle head parents who say it didn’t kill me so it should be ok for my kid….then boom brain injury. I believe we are looking at the pinnacle of the sport. Federal, State, and local laws will become stricter, and rightfully so. You don’t need a non-neurologist on the side of a Pee Wee football game saying, ah he just had his bell rung. Insurance premiums for football is already pricey, wait till a few lawsuits make it through. Mike you of all people calling for the independent sideline neurologist for NFL…if it’s good for the goose the gander should have it too. Good post, people need to be educated on this issue.

  11. yevrag3535 says: Feb 12, 2012 9:52 PM

    Didn’t waste my time reading this article beause it is nonsense but the only good thing if it would happen is ESPN would hopefully finally go away. It is outdated and very predictable. Which none of this will neve ever happen.

  12. istateyourname says: Feb 12, 2012 9:55 PM

    As long as they sell cigarettes and alcohol, there’s no reason there can’t be an NFL. And boxing went down the s#!thole because they wouldn’t show the fights to anybody, they went with pay per view. Kind of like the NFL Network Thursday night games…why dont’ they take the Super Bowl for themselves, imagine how much money they could pocket from 115,000,000 viewers, why give that away on free TV? The NFL will do themselves in sucking up all the pennies out there.

  13. dbot1800 says: Feb 12, 2012 9:56 PM

    The Death of ESPN. Now there’s something to look forward to.

  14. wozzmann1955 says: Feb 12, 2012 10:04 PM

    If it were ever to come to pass,the Packers are the last team standing

  15. nyyjetsknicks says: Feb 12, 2012 10:17 PM

    How many of those Fourtune 500 companies no longer exist because in the change in technology? Football is unique and is not going anywhere. Rules may change but the game itself isn’t going anywhere.

  16. maverick5266 says: Feb 12, 2012 10:21 PM

    Nice article with some interesting and even plausable theories. If you listen to the theories about Dec.21 we don’t need worry about football any way fellas. Me personally, barring global calamity football is here to stay.

    P.S Don’t start Christmas shopping until Dec.22 if you believe in that BS.

  17. madczyk says: Feb 12, 2012 10:31 PM

    Interesting post. I for one believe the NFL will be more and more popular for the foreseeable future. The NHL has done a lot to boost its popularity and as far has major sports markets, is probably the NFL’s only real competition down the line. However, the NHL and the NFL co-exist nicely due to the timing in which the NHL gets serious (playoff’s) and when the NFL starts up again.

  18. jmikeh73 says: Feb 12, 2012 10:39 PM

    hang on…soccer is being pushed on us by liberals? wha…?

  19. dachozen1 says: Feb 12, 2012 10:40 PM

    As far as I’m concerned, football is over today. They are taking defenses out of the game. It is a Pass, Punt and Catch league. Anyone who grew up Lawrence Taylor, Mean Joe and Czonka/ Riggins, know this is not real football. It is a rendition of a game that used to require a certain amount of physicality. I hope they ban the sport until they figure it out or simply call it something else.

  20. latopia says: Feb 12, 2012 10:44 PM

    Another major flaw by the authors: assumptions, bad assumptions, more bad assumptions.

    One, Cowen-Grier see salvation in the NBA. Really? And the lockout to reverse losses while (allegedly) restoring parity was just a figment of our imagination? And did our ‘noteworthy’ economists also & somehow miss the slow-growth reality of the average NBA franchise?

    Two, even putting NBA economics aside, consider the product — 6 months of comatose grind barely revived by 2 months of postseason adrenaline. Would anyone be surprised if football fans tuning into the latter were simply priming themselves for NFL training camps opening mere weeks after the NBA Finals?

    More bad assumptions: the sport doesn’t matter, fans will watch anything. For some fans — yes; but a majority? Over time? Numerous studies on competitive balance suggest there are fundamental differences between the fan dynamics of pro football v. pro basketball. NFL fans prefer parity, NBA fans celebrate dynasties.

    Otherwise, I appreciate navel-gazing as much as the next guy. Cowen-Grier may be notable economists. But I think and suspect they’re lousy, somewhat uninformed “fans.”

  21. davikes says: Feb 12, 2012 10:59 PM

    I hope football at the professional and collegiate levels actually gets safer with better HGH and other PED testing. If the average player were smaller, the hits would be less forceful. Just the laws of physics at work. (I’m not saying every player is using PED’s. But some of them are for sure, even at the collegiate level. Hopefully not the high school level, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)

  22. conjecture101 says: Feb 12, 2012 11:08 PM

    Football died the day Goodell took office.

  23. nfl fan says: Feb 12, 2012 11:21 PM

    …and the Eagles were so close.

  24. michaeljay17 says: Feb 12, 2012 11:23 PM

    The article assumes a lot, but it is not far fetched for a bunch of lawsuits to start rapidlynincreasing insurance premiums at lower levels.. the pee we leagues would in turn increase prices to participate and reduce the numbers of players. the nfl could find it slef as un-insurable.

  25. gabeman78 says: Feb 12, 2012 11:43 PM

    I love football, loved playing the game. I played it fromthe age of 8 to 18, both in pee wee league as well as High school and on the sandlot when organized football wasn’t in season. I love Fantasy football. I’m also a season ticket holder.

    That said, as a guy who’s wife is about to give birth to our first son any day. With the amount of scientific study saying how dangerous this game really is. I don’t see myself pushing him towards football. I’m not sure I’d let him play if he wanted to. It’s a long way off but that article really has me thinking.

    I can see how there can be a hypothetical concern that men and boys may simply stop playing. If more and more scientific study says this game is going to turn your head to moosh, i think there will probably be more fathers out there with the same feeling I’m having now.

  26. eddddddd says: Feb 12, 2012 11:47 PM

    They forgot to take into account Goodell and crappy officiating.

  27. domeinate says: Feb 12, 2012 11:56 PM

    One thing should be corrected. And I agree that I am a homer but the hit on Pierre Thomas in the Divisional round led to a concussion. It was not flagged because a helmet-to-helmet hit is allowed if you are a runner and have established a “football act.” OK, but Thomas lost control of his entire body at which time, he dropped the ball and it was a turnover. If the NFL is unwilling to flag helmet hits on runners, then the competition committee should consider whether it is fair to turn the ball over on downs. It may modify these types of hits when there is no reward for concussing a fellow player. Forward progress should be stopped by skill not kill.

  28. bsizemore68 says: Feb 12, 2012 11:58 PM

    If GE can get by with out paying taxes, and still get a rebate, then the Billion dollar owners and the NFL will always be here as long as there is money to be made, of course guess who makes the law, and have there hands in the pocket of the politicians, don’t worry about the supreme court, they have been brought and sold, the law suites are not going any where. Bill

  29. isphet71 says: Feb 13, 2012 12:00 AM

    Looks like the 4 letter network has gone for the immediate sensationalist story at the possible expense of long term sustainability. Hurting the league can only hurt ESPN in the long run.

    It’s not like ESPN to bite the hand that feeds it. Doing the right thing rarely plays into their motivations. This has to be short-sightedness.

  30. howiehandles says: Feb 13, 2012 12:00 AM

    “Nobody give a crap about
    basketball or hockey, and baseball is
    just too long. Of course, the liberals are
    always pushing the ‘feel good’ sport of
    soccer down our throats…”

    Your post would have made more sense if you just explained it “me eat meat, me man, me like hit”.

    liberals, really?

  31. drisdale says: Feb 13, 2012 12:06 AM

    How about if the helmet / equipment technology just catches up with the sport. Probably more likely to happen.

  32. tatum064 says: Feb 13, 2012 12:12 AM

    if possible, the league will create robots to play the game. Nothing is stopping that revenue, and the economy is too bad for top athletes not to play despite the lawsuits (which the league would hire the best attorneys to simply say; its at the risk of the participant)

    Too much ad revenue, luxury box windfalls, television coverage and related advertising for this golden goose to ever stop laying. The new market for fans (international) is next, but the game is a little too complicated.

    I will say that the declining state of high school budgets for sports will play a factor in the decline of football – which is why more foreign born players will begin to proliferate the league.

    I will also say further expansion is going to water down the product. The greed of the players could turn some fans off – but the last Super Bowl was one of the highest rated in years, and came down to the final play.

    The league was smart enough avoid a major work stoppage, which would’ve hurt the game for years.

  33. kevpft says: Feb 13, 2012 12:34 AM

    Of course football is going away! It’s not a matter of if, but when. Now, the when may be a long time in the future, even decades, but no social construction this contrived and artificial is going to stay around forever. It’s the depth of folly to think that it “can’t” happen.

    Three factors are already hastening its decline. (And I don’t really care about the “record viewership” numbers, because all they are doing is moving upward with population growth.)

    1) Decreased attention span. In the age of tweets, Facebook soundbites, and short YouTube clips, along with shrinking portable computer devices, is a 3-hour commercial-stuffed dinosaur really going to be able to hold young people’s attention? Football may have prestige, but can it overcome the impatience for instant gratification?

    2) Soccer. I know, the long-predicted effect of widespread youth soccer programs hasn’t materialized yet. But changes to the U.S. national soccer program’s training programs, and the way it will connect the dots between school, professional, national, and international teams, will start to fill in a gap where soccer pursuit normally fizzles out. Add to that the increased presence of soccer on regular channels – Euro pro matches on Fox, other types of matches on ESPN – and the increased intensity of fandom and funding in many MLS cities, and it’s moving in one direction, however slowly.

    3) Finally, and most damning, is the decreased quality of product. And I don’t mean all the complaining about Goodell making the game less macho. I mean, football simply isn’t as good as it used to be. We’ve seen the best football we’re ever going to see. Sure, everyone’s bigger and stronger and faster, the game’s gotten more complex, the best athletes are the best we’ve ever seen.

    But let’s face it. The “classic” factor is bleeding out of the game. The character that makes people really care is waning. A lot of football fandom these days comes from the related, tangential activity like fantasy football, and an automatic-pilot reflex response to something presented as important by the media. Records fall, and no one really cares. Teams approach perfect seasons, and it feels kind of tired.

    Obviously, there’s still a lot of life left. But there aren’t really any factors that trump entropy. Football’s no more immune from falling from grace than any other previously #1 pastime.

  34. eagleviking says: Feb 13, 2012 12:38 AM

    I believe that the NFL has hit the summit and the descent has begun. It has been a wonderful ride, but the cracks can be seen. The product suffers from mediocrity in pursuit of parity. The last real team that everyone really feared were the Cowboys of the nineties. Even the Patriots were very beatable during their Super Bowl conquests. Then there is that familiar culprit, Greed, that rears it’s ugly head when the majority of Corporations grow and grow. The NFL suffers from this big time. The creation of The NFL Network appears to be for the average fan, but the cable war with how much fans should pay for this is alarming. Also, the lunacy of adding 2 more games to the schedule would only hurt the game more. Football IS a great sport for television, but another major reason it clicks so well with us is Anticipation. NOw we have to have games on 3, sometimes 4 nights a week…and the offseason has become the onseason too. More is not better…better is better.

  35. rooneyruleblues says: Feb 13, 2012 12:45 AM

    Every record broken by a modern QB should and must have an asterisk next to it. How much more difficult it must have been for Marino to throw for 5K than Drew Brees. You can’t even touch a QB anymore.

  36. jaggedmark says: Feb 13, 2012 12:46 AM

    Napster was fundamentally premised on the illegal dissemination of copyrighted musical content, the lawsuits, and the death of the original version of Napster, were inevitable. The original version of football (you know, the one where they didn’t wear helmets at all and grew their hair long because they thought it would protect the skull) also no longer exists.
    ————————————————
    Sure but the new media outlets (in the style of Napster) have no association with Napster, whatsoever. The NFL is the same league, despite changes in uniforms, rules, etc.
    ————————————————
    So you failed in regards to the first paragraph of this posting.

  37. buckybadger says: Feb 13, 2012 12:49 AM

    It is possible for football to die much like boxing but it would take some thing as drastic as it did for boxing. History listen here folks. In the 1960s a boxer at the University of Wisconsin died in a match. It was virtually the death to boxing in NCAA sports hence drying a large pool were professional boxing got its talent. Now the death itself kill boxing but losing the ability for young boxers to get scholarships did. Athletes went elsewhere.

    If something [and it would take more than a death] where to happen where there was no more college football, professional football would dry up and die as well. Now do we see this happening the south?

  38. imongo says: Feb 13, 2012 12:54 AM

    The jetsons had robots play…sounds good

  39. staffordsyear says: Feb 13, 2012 1:31 AM

    If the league keeps goin the the way it is it will be like the pro bowl game every game,every week..what happend to good ol football? yes the players are getting faster,stronger for many years now and its up to goodell and his 10 million dollar a year salary to fix it..the way its goin now (i love matt stafford having the 5th most passing yards in the history of the game) its lookin more soft every year and lets start mandating more safer equipment like the new helmets for a start? the nfl controls everything anyway so why not start there?..im not a big goodell fan,hes playin to the owners,that seems obvious to me.

  40. dumplingsrbrown says: Feb 13, 2012 1:32 AM

    wozzmann1955 says:
    Feb 12, 2012 10:04 PM

    If it were ever to come to pass,the Packers are the last team standing

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Something about the Packers playing with themselves sounds appropriate. Not pleasant, but appropriate.

  41. sogawasan says: Feb 13, 2012 1:37 AM

    Interesting article. I think the one thing that hurts football in the long run (and even baseball) is that so few people actually play the sport casually. Never mind all the women in the world, even the majority of American men have never donned a helmet and tackled somebody. I see basketball and soccer as having much better long term prospects since there will be a large and loyal fan base that both plays and watches.

    Also, recently I have noticed an interesting dynamic on really nice days, when everybody makes a point to go to the park. There is always soccer, and sometimes guys trying to play a game of football. But football is not so fun for these guys, and you can just sense a bit of envy since our soccer games our much livelier and interactive. And now and then a guy who is terrible at soccer, and played football in high school, joins us anyway. I commend these guys. They realize soccer (as well as basketball) are actually meant to be enjoyed by all. Football was not designed to be enjoyed by all, and this hurts its long term prospects.

  42. fmwarner says: Feb 13, 2012 1:38 AM

    I don’t think it’s as farfetched as a lot of people seem to. Players are only going to get bigger and faster, and the result is more devastating hits. The new rules are a good idea in theory, but the execution is haphazard and inconsistent.

    I still think the only real, permanent solution is weight limits by position. It’ll reduce dependence on steroids, reduce the impact of hard hits, and probably reduce joint injuries too.

  43. dennis2488 says: Feb 13, 2012 2:20 AM

    of course football is dying. espn is the one killing it slowly with things like the overblown “spygate” story.

  44. patpatriotagain says: Feb 13, 2012 2:48 AM

    football is already dead. Goodell has seen to that, it may still be twitching, but football is done.

    yes there will still be a game on sundays, but it will not be football

  45. donniebmc says: Feb 13, 2012 2:48 AM

    “…trying to kill with a gun a wide assortment of creatures that can kill humans without one.”

    Haha. Doesn’t sound like Mike’s a big hunter.

  46. george3246 says: Feb 13, 2012 2:50 AM

    All games, sports and disciplines evolve over time. American football has had its share of evolution.

    When I was a college wrestler during the mid 60′s, no one could have ever imagined that a mixed martial art based on boxing, wrestling, jiujitsu and muy thai would evolve into what it is today.

    As an official of American and international styles of wrestling for most of my adult life, I knew that the rules are there to protect the wrestlers. I took notice of mma’s controversial beginnings. If its promoters had not significantly and continually adapted its earlier rules during the 90′s, we would not have been able to witness its meteoric rise in popularity. And what guarantee did states want from promoters of one of the most violent sports ever before licensing it? The safety of its athletes.

    The elephant in the NFL and NCAA boardroom is that their changes in safety equipment (helmets, pads, etc) over the years have not prevented the onslaught of “concussion like symptoms”.

    If they want to fix the problem, I believe that the hard surface of the helmet and face mask have allowed each player to become a lethal battering ram. Efforts to design helmets with foam on the outside and inside to absorb the shock generated by the collision have probably been initiated.

    No matter how many fines are collected from players for highly questionable and inconsistent calls, clashes of helmets are an inevitable end of football. Not so long ago, the NFL sold clips of the most severe hits. By making helmets and pads that truly absorb shock while being lighter, perhaps the NFL and NCAA can better protect their players.

  47. airraid77 says: Feb 13, 2012 3:11 AM

    if you want theory, I will give you one.
    At the end of the day, the libs, or the communist party which is what they are, so badly want to remake the country to their liking that they will do anything to do that.
    SO……if they have their supreme court judges, both houses, and the white house, Or lets just say the barrack obama win relection and the dems take back super majority in both houses……
    He gets his dream and 2 conservative judges step down.
    he appoints two yuppies.
    Immediately, the bill of right are challenged, and taken by the supreme court, all of the major ones , right to bear arm, right to assemble, freedom of speech, freedom OF(sometimes mistaken as from) religion, and right to own property.
    and he gets his version of card check and his version of his health care, not the watered down version.
    he could ban american football, baseball, hockey,auto racing, and basketball in the name of safety, saving the country money on health care….leaving what they believe to be the american sport soccer, and with guns ceased, all property now govt property, you wouldnt dare write, or be in opposition to it……
    of course if the health care law is deemed constitutional he could just say it is to costly to the american people and try it that way.
    and the more they ram down our throats safety, the gvt protect bs, the more it takes affects an the more like it will eventually happen.

  48. tom35mt says: Feb 13, 2012 3:32 AM

    Football will never go away.
    thousands of people die from guns every year, did we outlaw gun ownership ? No

    A couple football related deaths a year wont change anything, except the rules of the game we love.

  49. ktcmoving says: Feb 13, 2012 3:53 AM

    “… or the inherently barbaric nature of two men repeatedly punching each other in the head, the mainstream audience didn’t appreciate or enjoy the nuances of the so-called sweet science. Instead, watching boxing was all about waiting for a knockdown and otherwise pretending to know what was happening through the flurry of activity that occurred when someone wasn’t in danger of getting knocked down.”

    – Sounds a lot like someone doesn’t like Boxing and doesn’t know crap about it either. As someone else above said, the main problem is they went Pay Per View all the way, because that way the fighters and the promoters get the slightly bigger cuts. Classic short sightedness, especially given how much money TV companies are now paying for football and other popular sports/programs.

  50. ashman23 says: Feb 13, 2012 4:40 AM

    I love the NBA, latopia but I totally agree on your comments regarding it. I played growing up and watched MJ do his stuff, so I’m linked to it through history.

    But year after year you see teams struggle financially and smaller markets lose their players too easily.

    The NFL presents to us ‘any given Sunday’ and we see it year after year, teams who were poor suddenly be playoff contenders.

    This is why the NFL will grow and grow and remain popular. PARITY.

  51. redgreen3b1 says: Feb 13, 2012 5:12 AM

    What drew me to this game 20 years ago was the violence. Now I realize it is so much more, but I already turn some games off. Because I get fed up with the new rules on hitting. If they keep going they will lose me. I promise you that. I will just go watch more MMA baby! Concussions abound there!
    They know where there money comes from though. The core fan who truly loves the violence!!!!!!!!!!!!

  52. ezra954 says: Feb 13, 2012 5:56 AM

    In high school they play for love in college they play for a scholarship and hope to make the show in the NFL they play for money as the risk get higher they get paid more just like any other high risk job

  53. brainhair says: Feb 13, 2012 6:05 AM

    A better article is the one Cowan/Grier link to in their story. It’s Jonah Leher’s profile on young developing brain injuries in HS football and what a California school is doing to help. It also mentions something I didn’t know, which is that the second most dangerous sport is…wait for it…girl’s soccer. So if the NFL gets in trouble maybe just double down on violence and have young women dribble balls thru d lines while LBs go for their knees.
    But seriously, I played Football growing up, obsess over it here and other sites, and I watch every Sunday. I also have a son. I don’t think I want him to play football. It’s scary dangerous the kind of effects from that many impacts on young heads that Lehrer describes. And that is super effing hypocritical of me, I know, and I kind of obsess over it. Just saying. Read Leher’s article.

  54. macbull says: Feb 13, 2012 6:16 AM

    Mike…there is another issue that just does not make a lick of sense to me…

    …why the NFL has not mandated the use of helmets that have been proven to reduce, by a huge percentage, the occurrence of concussions…proven on the NFL’s own football fields.

    Just as the NFL appears to be slow at reacting to their own studies on concussions, they are just as slow when it comes to improving the required safety equipment mandated for use in the NFL.

    Willie Lanier saved his career by wearing a helmet with foam padding added to the outside…the NFL did not mandate the use of that helmet.

    Mark Kelso and Steve Wallace used the ProCap, a layer of foam that covered their helmets and both extended their careers, which were threatened by concussions…yet the NFL refuses to mandate the use of the ProCap.

    FIX THE DAMN HELMETS and put an end to Roger Goodell’s weekly money grab from those players who don’t play the game according to the rules of Roger.

    It is such an easy fix…makes me wonder what else the NFL might be hiding.

    jmho…mac

  55. rajbais says: Feb 13, 2012 6:55 AM

    I’m sorry!!!

    I don’t see the “death” happening because people in the South love NASCAR and football!!!!

    That is an area that wants “limited government” or the “government to not to tell what it cannot do” and it has been that way for centuries!!!

    NASCAR or car racing seems to be A LOT deadlier than football!!!! Why is there no death of that, but football instead????

  56. purplecrowe says: Feb 13, 2012 6:56 AM

    Ummm, could you repeat the part where you said all about the…things.

  57. rajbais says: Feb 13, 2012 7:11 AM

    Plus, there is ZERO talk about the helmet as it can cause a player to psychologically think that there is a shield; thus causing them to play recklessly.

    Why is there no talk about getting rid of the faceguard or the helmet itself so the players can play less reckless???

  58. bucfansouthtampa says: Feb 13, 2012 7:15 AM

    I can actually see their points. If this goes to trial, NFL loses. If NFL settles, then its a big payout to a lot of former players (think settlement with tobacco companies).
    In the future, it could come down to if a player sustains multiple concussions, he is forced to retire from football, involuntarily. That would protect the shield from lawsuits.
    @macbull, agree-better helmets

  59. worldwidebleater says: Feb 13, 2012 7:16 AM

    This explains ESPN and Cowherd ramming futball up our collective arses. Viva la NFL!!!

  60. losangelasbasketball says: Feb 13, 2012 7:53 AM

    Anyone have the cliffnotes to what this guy said? I Lost interest when paragraph 2 started up….

  61. indywilson40 says: Feb 13, 2012 7:59 AM

    …..And Browns fans rejoice because now NO ONE will win a Super Bowl.

  62. jamaltimore says: Feb 13, 2012 8:03 AM

    I don’t believe it’s far fetched at all. The money follow’s football today because it’s wildly successful. Once that popularity slides because the sport is deemed unsafe so goes the sponsorships, etc.

    The issue of concussions is only going to increase and the rules will become more draconian for the types of hits that made football what it is. This eventual destroys the product and feeds the pansie culture evolving in the US who believe the sport should be removed from mainstream. take boxing as it stands today.

    I hope none of this happens but true player saftety and football don’t exist and either all will accept it and the game will flourish and be legally protected. If not it could very much go aware over the next 30 years.

  63. hollymolley says: Feb 13, 2012 8:05 AM

    There have been coments for over a year about the decline in football interest. I know not about the legal aspect, but I do know what I see, and that is an intrusion of politics and scripting. And now We see an article, by ESPN, openly discussing the subject. Trust your instincts, once you see public denials, then rest assured, it is a fact. Others have been around long enough to see the same parade of denials with the demise of other sports. Open your eyes its going on again, Football is in decline. Plitics and Scripting….

  64. waltdawg says: Feb 13, 2012 8:10 AM

    Keep it the way it is I say!

  65. tmaleman says: Feb 13, 2012 8:30 AM

    “Of course, the liberals are always pushing the ‘feel good’ sport of soccer down our throats…”

    This comment has to be the dumbest, most ignorant thing I’ve read all morning, and I’ve read half of the USA Today already.

  66. mackie66 says: Feb 13, 2012 8:33 AM

    The death of the NFL? Its already in progress. Given the tort system in this country, that allows anyone ability to sue anyone for any reason makes a good arguement. Coupled with the “new”rules in place to stop players from defending and making tackles, then throw in the old players making some absurd arguement the NFL should have known, or did know how playing football can give you a head concussion and you have a mixture that could spell doom for the NFL, college, and high school football or any football played at any level. I can see Congress outlawing football, and the constitution wont mean squat, just look at Obama. He shreads the constitution on a dailey bases. If the federal government can pass a law that requires us, you and me to purchase health insurance, then yes, football can be outlawed. Chuck Shumeur, Joe Bidden, Obama ??? Are you kidding?

  67. xxxviichamps says: Feb 13, 2012 8:35 AM

    Parents are not going to stop their kids from playing football because of concussion risk…kids still ride bikes and play in the woods despite the chance of bike wrecks and snake bites…

    More people participate in Super Bowl Sunday than Independence Day…I don’t think the sport is going anywhere, any time soon.

  68. panthers34 says: Feb 13, 2012 8:36 AM

    I’m struck by how the “upset” no longer exists in the Super Bowl. The Giants pushed the Patriots around and no one was really surprised. Being a fan of a small market team I like the parity but I wouldnt mind seeing a TRULY dominant team. Just to beleive in greatness again. I think it will take 20-30 years for Soccer to truley challange the NFL. The National Team would have to go on consistent runs in international turny’s and the MLS teams will neat to have lots of STAR talent in their PRIME. I wonder if the popularity of college football can hold off the de-evolution since it gets everyone nice and assimulated.

  69. winstonps says: Feb 13, 2012 8:45 AM

    Will the NFL die? No. Just like boxing hasn’t with greater risk.

    But the youth and high school teams will in that order. Once the foundations of the sport erode then we will see what staying power the NFL has.

  70. mtavin says: Feb 13, 2012 8:57 AM

    Concussions aren’t a laffing matter but … seriously? The death of football? If risk, liability or the threat thereof killed anything, NASCAR would be 6 ft. under. The pyramids.

    Also, we gonna kill Santa too? Because last I looked, THE SUPER BOWL was bigger than Christmas — as in, not just another game, not just another sport, not just about football.

  71. jimisawesome says: Feb 13, 2012 9:00 AM

    So the great argument against the piece is football is popular now so it always will be and ex players are bitter? How does this address the issures raised at all in the grantland piece?

    I have had this feeling for a while and agree with the grantland piece on how it will happen. The sport will die from the bottom up not from the top down and it will not necciassarlly be over night but over a decade or two. And by death no one means it will it will just vanish but instead the sport will become boxing.

    Its at the high school and pee wee levels the sport will die and it would not surprise me at all if its in the next 5 to 10 years at all. As the piece pointed out it will be because lack of intrest because “middle class” and above parents will not let their sons play the sport which means poorer districts will have a harder time justifiying the cost and feel the brunt of the higher insurance preimums. It will be the rise of insurance preimums it will only take a couple of million dollar law suits for inaduquate care to do this. It will be the continuing budget problems school districts face even in the “good times” school budgets were squeezed. Its college Title 9 compliance rules making their way to high schools that make it either football and no other male sports or the other male sports or football. High schools just can’t afford to have rowing to meet compliance numbers.

    This will effect the college game. And I don’t think its far fetched at all to see the Ivies pull out of the sport when more research shows the harm. I don’t think its far fetched at all to the see the UC schools pull out its not like UCLA and Cal really need the sport to attract students or to brand their schools.

  72. melikefootball says: Feb 13, 2012 9:00 AM

    Maybe ESPN will clean house of some of the dorks that speculate there.

  73. mrznyc says: Feb 13, 2012 9:05 AM

    It won’t die from the top down but from the bottom up. The insurance industry will eventually kill it. Already the cost of High and Junior High football is becoming prohibitive. More and more school systems are dropping the sport because they simply can not afford it. When the breeding ground dies, eventually the sport dies. In reality, that is what happened to boxing. The athletes are no longer there.

  74. mjjoe76 says: Feb 13, 2012 9:08 AM

    I wish the people trying to use this discussion as a soapbox for their largely unrelated political theories would take them elsewhere.

    There are plenty of sites dedicated to political discussion. Please visit them instead.

  75. jimisawesome says: Feb 13, 2012 9:16 AM

    The other issue the game is already at its peak. There just is not that much room for growth anymore. Cable money is all but tapped out. The cable owners hated the ESPN NFL deal for good reason as ESPN is 20 percent of their wholesale costs and provides only about 5 percent of the audiance. The A la carte talk is nothing more than a threat towards ESPN who does not have a working model without it.

    The Superbowl ratings have leveled off a long time ago.

    If the tax code ever changes the NFL is in huge trouble as most of its revenue streams are built on exploting the tax code. If they ever eliminate the corporate entertainment write off for example there goes skybox and box seat sales.

    So where is growth going to come from? London? LOL. That game is filled with expats in europe and like 12 brits.

  76. philtration says: Feb 13, 2012 9:23 AM

    wozzmann1955 says: Feb 12, 2012 10:04 PM

    If it were ever to come to pass,the Packers are the last team standing
    =====================================

    That is because Green Bay has always been years behind the rest of the country.

  77. ravensfan4life52 says: Feb 13, 2012 9:23 AM

    If players don’t realize the risks of football then their brains aren’t working very well as it is.

  78. bearfan78 says: Feb 13, 2012 9:24 AM

    How many of the Fortune 500 companies actually went out of business? My guess is few. Most will have merged (Ashland and Marathon); were acquired (Anheuser-Busch by Inbev); or used bankruptcy laws to emerge as a new (but same) company (GM).

    If lawsuits and health risks directly correlated to business existing or ceasing to exist, Phillip Morris (Altria), Reynolds American and Lorillard would have ceased to exist in the early-to-mid 90s.

  79. dcfan4life says: Feb 13, 2012 9:27 AM

    Hard to argue that the most popular league with nearly half the clubs worth over a $billion can decline so badly like that. If there article targeted boxing id understand. But football. You can be a well know economist and still be far fetched. Their arguments are not sound. They don’t quote the huge numbers the sport brings in and how it has steadily increased. They dont mention the potential expansion onto other continents or the memorabilia sales. And ESPN always likes to look stupid. Why else is Chris Berman and Stuart Scott still employed…?

  80. cashconsiderations says: Feb 13, 2012 10:10 AM

    It’s naive to think it’s impossible. Boxing fell off because the public perception changed from regarding it as the “sweet science” to seeing it as a brutal, uncivilized spectacle. Once that happened the elite athletes stopped participating, colleges eliminated their programs and the quality of and interest in the sport cratered.

    What if a player gets killed in a high profile college or NFL game? What if Brett Favre ends up like Muhammad Ali in five years? The sport is going to have to drastically change whether any of us sitting on our couches like it or not.

    Thankfully, there are many things that could be done to make it safer, starting with eliminating all helmet to helmet contact, adding an eligible receiver and widening the field.

  81. fraudguy says: Feb 13, 2012 10:12 AM

    Cowen’s the conservative/libertarian economist who’s been saying that, thanks to the stimulus package for the economy, that high inflation was coming in 2009. Or was that 2010. Maybe 2011? How about 2012? How about he stops playing and takes home his predictions…

  82. steelerfanjo says: Feb 13, 2012 10:13 AM

    Football is already gone with the Idiot Goodell in charge. Ray Lewis & Bellacheat are celebrated is all you have to know why the NFL is nothing like it was.

  83. rabidbillsfan says: Feb 13, 2012 10:21 AM

    This may have been said already, but heres my problem with the NFL trying to make the game more safe. First, not only have fans voiced concerns over the rule changes, but High-Profile players have as well. This is where I see the issue, the NFL is making these rules and it is almost an admission of guilt that they know the sport isn’t safe enough and that debilitating brain injuries occur. Fining and Flagging players won’t hold up in a court room if one of these Lawsuits ever go through, “Well we fined him $100,000″ just won’t cut it. What should have really happened was the NFL should have put the onus on the NFLPA. It is their clients that are risking their bodies, not the NFL. That would rid the NFL of any future obligation of these possible lawsuits. You said it right, anybody with half a brain, which they all should have, knows the risks. Godell is doing the right thing, morally, but he is opening himself up to unneeded criticism and possible lawsuits by trying to cram a safer sport down a bunch of guys throats who actually play it. The NFL company should just be the stage that players use to broadcast their talents, the NFLPA should be responsible for their own players saftey and funding the ones who think they were shorted.

  84. bullcharger says: Feb 13, 2012 10:40 AM

    Dumb arguments ESPN. The NFL is not in a position to fail like Fortune 500 companies or Napster.

    The demand is high for professional football and the NFL is the only seller in town with a quality product.

    Every Fortune 500 company has competition that can walk in and take its place if they make any wrong move.

    Napster’s business demand didn’t go away, it was taken by Apple with a better (legal) model.

    The biggest threat to the NFL was the AFL. That made sense as that was true competition. Since they merged, there is no current threat.

    Threats to a sport’s demand is a different kind of threat. That’s what the concussion issue is. People may not follow the NFL in the future it if they don’t grow up playing the game due to concussion risk. Well that’s easy to fix and the NFL is working hard to do just that. The risk of losing demand at a time when demand is at it’s highest is not a real business risk, it’s just a bump in the road they need to get over.

  85. chunkyloverfiftythree says: Feb 13, 2012 10:51 AM

    Also, boxing is dying because of a corrupt governing body and MMA is expanding rapidly because of prudent business practices. One could make the argument that Baseball is dying because of a corrupt governing body as well. It is all entertainment at the end of the day and popularity is contingent on the quality of the product you give to consumers. Baseball is missing key components like a real salary cap and revenue sharing, which have wide ranging impacts. The result is a bad product from MLB. The NFL is doing great right now, but it would be hubris to assume that the NFL is untouchable. Especially when refs seem to favor more popular teams and fans walk away from games with a bad taste in their mouth after watching a game being decided on a ticky-tac holding or pass interference call. History is littered with examples of entities who thought they were too big to fall.

  86. bullcharger says: Feb 13, 2012 10:57 AM

    I don’t think it’s as farfetched as a lot of people seem to. Players are only going to get bigger and faster, and the result is more devastating hits. The new rules are a good idea in theory, but the execution is haphazard and inconsistent.

    I still think the only real, permanent solution is weight limits by position. It’ll reduce dependence on steroids, reduce the impact of hard hits, and probably reduce joint injuries too.

    ——————–

    The speed and size of players are increasing but that’s not the main reason for the concussions. It’s mostly just awareness. People now know the impact on players lives while it wasn’t really known before. There were always plenty of concussions in football and plenty of dangerous hits (see Jack Tatum).

    Society is now just understanding that getting your “bell rung” may have a long term effect.

    It wasn’t something anyone worried about in the past.

    The NFL will make the necessary changes easily get through this period and it will be forgotton in 2 or 3 years.

  87. raiders757 says: Feb 13, 2012 11:29 AM

    I don’t think NFL football will ever completely die off unless our current society has a Roman Empire type of collapse. That said, it will one day suffer, as there is only so much further it can go in terms of popularity. We’re near the peak already, and fans are being priced out of everything, including Sunday Ticket. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the not so distant future, it’s back down to the popularity levels it had forty, or so, years ago. One day the ratings WILL drop, it won’t be the glitzy WWF NFL we have all become familiar with in today’s day and age. Greed runs every business into the ground, and no business, including the NFL, is immune to this.

  88. cmack21 says: Feb 13, 2012 2:35 PM

    they guys who wrote it never were on a football field. except for halftime.
    you wont be able to stop kids from playing ball. as HORRIBLE is baseball & soccer is you cant force those guys to stop playing.

  89. frankpm says: Feb 13, 2012 3:40 PM

    just wanted to say that THIS article was itself a much better read than the one referenced =)

  90. pizzon says: Feb 13, 2012 11:12 PM

    personally I think ESPN has a better chance of dissolving because of the trash jornalism they try to push on fans rahter than football becoming exstinct. yes it is a violent, physical sport that is loved and at the same time admired. my suggestion is that ESPN stop allowing this garbage to be posted on their website.

  91. hollymolley says: Feb 15, 2012 7:14 AM

    The show has become larger than the game, WWF style. By far the most damaging is how Political it has become, and of course “Scripted”. Just the fact that ESPN writes about it means that it is being noticed.

  92. bittersportspills says: Feb 18, 2012 12:24 AM

    As much as I love NFL football…and we wouldn’t be here if we all didn’t love football…I could see it being legislated and litigated out of existence.

    It’s only a matter of time before a player dies on the field. The devastating part will be, it will happen on a perfectly legal hit. It will happen again, and then again. The casual (bandwagoner) fan will panic, and even we, as people who love the game will start to wonder about whether it can be conducted safely.

    Bigger and faster men on a field where there’s only so much room to maneuver. It’s why we see concussions in hockey soaring; there’s the same amount of room as athletes grow bigger, stronger and faster.

    The only thing that will save football in the long run are technology solutions that help prevent these cumulative injuries such as concussions. Basically, players will basically have to be encased in armor to play the game.You can’t have a player suffer 300 car crashes a year and expect for them to be okay.

  93. ishudbgm says: Feb 18, 2012 8:43 PM

    There is this thing out now….its called alcohol, I have heard that a few people die every year from drinking it and operating heavy machinery(car, truck, even a gun)…..long story short, if it makes this country enough money it will not go anywhere. Stop worrying people, Roger is gonna make the game soft enough that even nuns can enjoy it.

  94. monkeesfan says: Feb 20, 2012 5:49 PM

    The piece nails it when it notes the resentment factor driving lawsuits over concussions. The reality is the concussion issue is getting far more play because the league got oversensitive to recent research, it was not because the threat of concussions truly is greater now than it ever was – if anything players are LESS likely to suffer concussions now than before; what’s happened is there’s more hysteria about them. bittersportspills is flat wrong.

  95. bangitfootball says: Feb 23, 2012 2:26 PM

    The lawyers and the commish are destroying football little by little every year. Its little more than flag football now and anyone thats seen Jack Tatum , Ray Nitchske, Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor and the other hitters of the 60s, 70s and 80s know the game will never be the same. Id rather watch the SEC.

  96. pj2500 says: Mar 2, 2012 6:49 AM

    If the game is indeed so hazardous to younger players then wouldn’t we have more examples of brain-damaged, demented individuals roaming around as a result of playing youth and highschool football? I know a lot of guys in their 40′s and 50′s who played the game through high school, and many who played in college. There’s not one case of headaches, dementia, or any other head-related symptom from playing football. Instead, I see a lot of successful family men, business leaders, teachers, and other professionals. Is there a risk? Of course there is. There’s a risk when an 8 year old rides his bike, there’s a risk of dying when you sit in a car, etc, etc. This entire issue is yet another case of our overly cautious, overly litigious, overly PC society. It’s a good thing we didn’t have this attitude back in 1941.

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