Injuries Set Stage for NFL's End
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 20:02
This past week, NFL safety Bernard Pollard, President Barack Obama and actress (and Jay Cutler fiance) Kristin Cavallari all voiced concerns about football’s future. With the differences in their professions and concerns, this trio’s comments perfectly summed up the impending hardships that America’s true national pastime faces.
While Bernard Pollard’s worries that “30 years from now, I don’t think [the NFL] will be in existence” are plausible, genuine and insightful, they may also be hypocritical. In the Ravens’ last playoff game, Pollard launched himself headfirst into the opposing wide receiver, earning a $15,250 fine in the process. Having earned a reputation for injuring opposing players, Pollard’s hits and simultaneous concerns about hitting perfectly portray the NFL’s struggles with head injuries.
And yet, like Pollard says, coaches want players to be “stronger and faster year in and year out,” a formula that he fears will only equal more concussions, while subsequent rule changes will make the game almost unwatchable. But it was Pollard’s gravest concern that really caught people’s attention: “The only thing I’m waiting for ... and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen ... is a guy dying on the field. We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death.”
Powerful as that statement may be, perhaps the question isn’t really about the NFL, because, as Pollard said, the players know the risks that they’re taking. Maybe the question is about the NFL’s feeder system, college football, and how it’ll be affected. It’s almost like I need another famous person to comment about it…
Enter President Obama. In an interview with The New Republic, the President voiced his concerns for all football players but specifically collegiate ones.
“You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on,” Obama said. “That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”
The NCAA, of course, isn’t exactly known for giving its student-athletes many rights — so few, in fact, that the former president of the NCAA wrote a book called “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes” when he realized how feudalistic the association he helped found had become. As Obama said, student-athletes don’t have a union. Maybe if the president gets out in front of the issue and voices concern about the safety of college football players, the NCAA will proactively institute more player safety rules.
If professional football will be a less-desirable sport to watch, and therefore a less-desirable profession in which to make a living, then college football will no doubt take a hit. The reason for that lies at the root of the problem, which Cavallari voiced perfectly.
Cavallari gave birth to Cutler’s son five months ago and, this past Sunday, revealed her wishes to keep baby Cam out of football. Obama also disclosed that, if he had a son, he might steer him to another sport. Coming from a woman who only met her fiance because he plays football, however, Cavallari’s comments came as much more of a surprise.
And this is where all the past weekend’s concerns about football come full circle. The NFL needs its feeder system of college players, and the NCAA needs a continuing stock of athletes. Much of the reason that some parents — especially from rough areas — push their kids into sports is because athletics might be the best way to get them to college tuition-free. What happens if that parental push is replaced by parental fear?
Even if most parents are letting their sons play football so that they can have fun with other kids, learn teamwork and stay in shape, it’s important to remember that the only thing in life as certain as death and taxes is parents’ worrying about their kids.
While this logic is easy to see, there are a number of specific effects that appear sure to follow. For one, within the next five or seven years, all contact to the head in the NFL — even accidental — will likely be met with a heavy fine and/or suspension. Also, Georgetown made a very shrewd move for the future by leaving the newly football-centric Big East, as basketball is set to become the biggest collegiate sport once football takes a hit. Finally, Pop Warner leagues across the country will have fewer and fewer participants, crippling football at all levels.
Maybe, then, football will become like boxing in society, a sport in which only the most daring of parents allow their kids to compete. Maybe neighborhoods in the north will be polar opposites of those in the South, where football is near impossible to remove from the culture — try imagining taking football away from the Texas town in “Friday Night Lights.”
Forget Chip Kelly and his new-age offensive schemes: It’s head injuries that will be the driving force behind football’s next revolution.
Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.