I am not convinced that there will be. Don’t get me wrong, I love football and always have. I was a Rams fan when they played in Los Angeles and had white horns on their helmets. I have followed the sport religiously since the late 1960’s, but I think there is a huge problem with the game that threatens its existence in our country.
Many are familiar of the cumulative effects that concussive episodes are having on football players. Former gridiron greats like Tony Dorsett, Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, and Karl Mecklenberg are currently feeling the effects of years of micro concussions and major episodes. With loss of memory and a general degrading of cognitive abilities, these men are becoming shells of their former selves. Some former players are simply dying from the effects of years of head trauma. Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson and future Hall-of-Famer Junior Seau became depressed and took their lives. Steeler great Mike Webster suffered dementia, amnesia, and depression before succumbing to numerous physical and mental ailments.
Recent research has documented that many deceased players who exhibited these symptoms suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease. Their brains had an abnormally large amount of protein called Tau. Reportedly these brains did not appear to have the degeneration like those who have suffered from Alzheimer’s, the level of debilitation has been obvious. And, it seems, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knew at the time that “seeing stars” and getting “your bell wrung” could result in permanent brain injury, debilitation, and death?
So, what is the point? The point is this. I think that this issue will only grow both in severity and commonality. Research indicates that these effects are cumulative and can only be recognized over time. Time will tell. The upshot is that football will become too costly to fund. The costs to human beings in physical and financial terms may kill the sport. As the truth comes out regarding traumatic brain injuries, parents will become less likely to sign their kids up for the sport. As more schools and leagues face lawsuits, insurers will begin charging exorbitant premiums to insure the sport. These premiums will become too costly for many public school systems. School administrators will have to make choices about the sports they offer and football may be on its way out.
Obviously, this may take decades and in some parts of our country, football is tantamount to a religious experience. In those places, the cost of these injuries may never outweigh the social benefit of the support to the local community. But there will be a tipping point. So, enjoy the sport now. The players are getting bigger, stronger and faster, but the brain is still as sensitive as ever encased in its tightly-fit skull. No amount of working out or super-duper helmets can keep a brain from shifting dramatically in these collisions. The writing is on the wall.