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Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Different Future for the NFL?

Last year sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who is believed to be the real-life inspiration for the movie, Jerry Maguire, opined in Forbes Magazine that "the looming specter of concussion consequences puts the future of the sport at risk" ("The Death of the NFL"). A year later he still believes this to be true, but not in the way you might think. He doesn't think the NFL will literally die, but he does believe that the socio-demographics of the game are going to change. In particular, he argues that middle and upper class parents are going to steer their kids away from football and toward less injury prone sports. Why? Because they're frightened by the increasing evidence about the way that football can damage the brains of our children:
Parents and athletes have accepted the fact that playing football breaks down the structure of many joints in the human body–the neck, hip, elbow, knee, ankle and back. But are parents willing to accept the reality that prominent neurologists like Dr. Julian Bailes, Dr. Bob Cantu, Dr. Mark Lovell, Dr. Mickey Collins and Dr. Tony Strickland are predicting. Our conferences showed that multiple concussions trigger an exponentially higher rate of premature senility and dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is one thing to know that years of football will make it harder for an athlete to bend down and pick up his child when the athlete is forty. What if he can’t recognize the child because of concussion related dementia? ("The Death of the NFL")
Steinberg is almost certainly right. While watching a game a few weeks ago, one of my friends remarked half kiddingly, "Aren't you glad other parents let their sons play football?" And no doubt, my friend's not alone in thinking this way. All this and more are the subject of Mark Purdy's recent column in the San Jose Mercury News ("Agent Sees Peril in NFL's Future"). Purdy's reflections on the state of the NFL as well as on some of Steinberg's recommendations for making the game safer are worth pondering.

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