The timing is wrong for this story, but then again the timing would never be right. Because this story considers the idea that football’s popularity — even as millions of fans are tuning in this week to the scouting combine to watch something as unwatchable as potential draft picks running and lifting — will fade over the coming years.
Maybe to extinction.
That’s the hypothesis, and listen, it’s not my hypothesis. Let me duck away from that one right now and put the blame for this story where it belongs, which is to say, with someone else. In January and then again earlier this month, an ESPN website ran stories suggesting the death of football. Hyperbolic — that was my thought. In mid-February a Yahoo website ran a similar story, this one suggesting the death of youth football. More hyperbole. But I was starting to wonder.
Four days later, the NFL trotted out commissioner Roger Goodell, put him on one of the biggest sports-talk radio stations in the biggest city in America to say that we wouldn’t see less football in the future; we would see more. Goodell told WEPN-AM 1050 in New York that he hears it “from the fans consistently — people want more football.” And then he said the NFL was open to increasing the regular-season schedule to 18 games in 2013 or ’14.
Now that Goodell was doing damage control, I was really interested in the hypothesis — not mine, mind you — that football is entering its most dangerous era. And then five days after Goodell’s comments, NFL analyst Troy Aikman went on HBO’s Real Sports and said football in this country “is at a real crossroads.
“If I had a 10-year-old boy,” Aikman said, “I don’t know that I’d be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we’re learning from head injuries. And so what is the sport going to look like 20 years from now? I believe, and this is my opinion, that at some point football is not going to be the No. 1 sport.”
Now I’m sold. This hypothesis is no longer their hypothesis — it’s mine. Now I’m starting to think, you know, there’s something to this. At the very least, there’s something to the possibility that football’s popularity, if not its outright existence, could become endangered thanks to mounting head injuries.
Troy Aikman makes his money from football, yet he’s telling the world he isn’t sure he would let his kid play. Aikman suffered a series of concussions with the Dallas Cowboys, so he knows what he’s talking about. If he stays on TV long enough, we’ll know as well. Anecdotal evidence suggests Aikman’s cognitive function — his ability to think quickly, even to speak clearly — has been compromised by all those concussions. It’s a matter of time.
Read more here.