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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Salon: O’Hehir: Football’s death spiral

“Corroded by scandal and undermined by shocking new science, America’s killer sport may be nearing collapse” Not if “Dr. Death” Steve Williams has anything to say about thi…oh, wait.

If baseball is, or at least used to be, a languidly paced sport played on an asymmetrical greensward that recalls America’s agrarian past, football is an industrial product of the modern age. Confined to a precisely measured rectangle that mimics the electronic screen, football plays out in staccato bursts of violence, interrupted by commentary and meta-commentary, near-pornographic slow-motion replays and scantily clad young women selling you stuff.

...It’s admittedly difficult to imagine that possibility now. For at least 20 years, football has had unquestioned supremacy among America’s major spectator sports. If the process wasn’t quite complete by the time baseball committed near-suicide with the 1994 players’ strike and the ensuing “steroid era,” that pretty much settled matters. Beyond the obvious fact that football is more fun to watch from the sofa from the stadium, and brings people together on weekends when it’s too cold to spend time outdoors, various aspects of the game seemed to capture the ethos of 1990s and 2000s America on a symbolic level. At least at the pro level, football focuses on freakish excesses of size and speed (augmented by who knows what exotic chemical regimens), head-on collisions that rival a demolition derby, and overheated masculine melodrama surrounded by endless nattering. It’s like all the vulgarity, violence and excitement of American life served up in a colorful three-hour package on Sunday afternoon. With beer! No wonder people enjoy it so much.

...Just as the Church in America will never be the same after the sexual abuse scandals, America’s dominant sport will never reclaim the air of cartoonish, ‘roided-up unreality it had a few years ago, when no one in sports journalism knew how to spell “encephalopathy.” All the loudness and emptiness of the Super Bowl spectacle can’t conceal the aura of doubt around the future of the game, or the collective shock of our discovery that the endpoint of this gladiatorial combat is actual death. Football is a central ingredient in the American narrative of masculinity, and it’s also the zillion-dollar linchpin of network television. But in case you haven’t heard the news, both those institutions are in crisis. Is it hard to imagine America without football? Yeah, but it’s time to start. It’s a killing game, and we have to let it die.

Repoz Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:54 AM | 212 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: football, really, sucks

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   1. BDC Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:18 AM (#4361000)
The tremendous loss of time which overattention to football occasions is its worst feature, though the brutality and maiming are serious evils, too.

– New York Times editorial, 23 November 1897
   2. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:27 AM (#4361002)
And football reformed itself massively in response to the critiques of the early 20th century.
   3. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:35 AM (#4361007)
You can also find writers decades ago lamenting about baseball the same way they are today.
   4. pthomas Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:16 PM (#4361026)
Well, the difference is that football's death spiral includes actual deaths.
   5. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:43 PM (#4361053)
Dr. Death Steve Williams was awesome. I'm glad an athlete of his ability eschewed silly American football and focused on a more dignified and enjoyable sport.
   6. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:44 PM (#4361054)
It’s a killing game, and we have to let it die.

Oh please. They'll make some changes that will delude enough people into thinking they've fixed the problem (baseball's drug testing program is a road map) and they will never miss cashing a check.
   7. John Northey Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:53 PM (#4361062)
One can dream of a world without the NFL or Super Bowl. Although I would miss the ads...
   8. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:08 PM (#4361078)
Although I would miss the ads...


Super Bowl ads are, near universally, terrible. It's the most misogynistic collection of 60 second spots of the year.
   9. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:20 PM (#4361090)
Super Bowl ads are, near universally, terrible.


FTFY.
   10. deputydrew Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4361095)
Please vote:

If you had a 9th grade son, would you let him play high school football?
   11. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:24 PM (#4361097)
I have a five-year-old son, and he'll never play a down.
   12. Gamingboy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:27 PM (#4361101)
10: No.


I have this feeling, alas, that the only thing that will cause football to truly change for the safety of the players will be a death on the field. And not just a death, it'll have to be a death in the NFL or a big-time NCAA game.

   13. Rafael Bellylard: A failure of the waist. Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:31 PM (#4361108)
10: No.

That will change when coaches and programs quit treating it like the sports equivalency of war.
   14. Flynn Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:45 PM (#4361124)
I enjoy pro football but I hate the violence and I hate, hate, hate the dipshitty corporate ######## around it.
   15. Transmission Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4361129)
10: No.
   16. Fancy Pants Handle doesn't need no water Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:52 PM (#4361130)
Rumors. Demise. Greatly exaggerated.
   17. spike Posted: February 03, 2013 at 01:55 PM (#4361132)
@10, heck no. Played football all the way through high school and switched to rugby in college. Much better game in virtually every respect, and boy could America put together a side of 6'7" dudes that can run like the wind. It's really a shame the sport isn't more popular here. Imagine football without hyperspecialization, constant stoppage of play, and byzantine rules, with just as many mano a mano confrontations.
   18. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4361141)
#10: Tough one, I probably would if he really wanted to. Football does have teachable moments of teamwork and self-sacrifice that others sports don't have. It would help if whatever league he would be in would be filled with slow white guys like mine was. Around here that probably wouldn't be the case.
   19. Flynn Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:06 PM (#4361143)
I played rugby too... all I have to say is I didn't end up with any major injuries, like a lot of my football friends did, and I got to run with the ball a couple times in every game, which friends my size who played football never did.

I've also played it in 4 different countries, which you definitely can't do with football.
   20. Dan Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:08 PM (#4361144)
10: No

I have this feeling, alas, that the only thing that will cause football to truly change for the safety of the players will be a death on the field. And not just a death, it'll have to be a death in the NFL or a big-time NCAA game.


I'm not sure I agree with this. In the age of social media and 24/7/365 coverage, I think what it will really take is a ~50 year old ex-NFL player chronicling the struggles of his daily life post-football via Twitter or Facebook or whatever comes next for people to really have the impact of CTE/Concussions/NFL brutality hit home. Once there are personal and humanized faces, voices, and narratives on the quality of life these guys have even 10 years after retiring, it's going to make it hard for parents to bury their heads in the sand while signing whatever ridiculous release forms will be required to play even high school football.
   21. puck Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4361145)
The solution to this is clearly football academies and anti-aging clinics in the DR, Haiti, Mexico, etc.
   22. John Northey Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4361146)
My 14 year old daughter wants to, and if the coach would let it I'd let her. But this is Canadian which is a lot lighter on the PED's as the odds of making the NFL is viewed as near 0. She out-threw the quarterback when she was out on the field for fun with friends...which also might explain why they lost every game and scored in just one.
   23. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4361163)
I have this feeling, alas, that the only thing that will cause football to truly change for the safety of the players will be a death on the field.

Darryl Stingley came pretty darned close.
   24. Jesse Barfield's Right Arm Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:59 PM (#4361170)
The best football/baseball comparison in regards to America would be to read Delillo's End Zone and Pafko at the Wall. Will tell you all you need to know.

I hope football goes away, because right now it is a guilty pleasure, in the truest sense of the phrase. I feel great joy in watching the games, followed by deep recrimination and doubt about whether I should enjoy it. Been troubling me since Andre Waters's suicide.
   25. Der-K, the bloodied charmer Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:06 PM (#4361176)
My ex-to-be wants our daughter (age 6) to play football over her preference of baseball/t-ball, as it's safer...
(Sigh)
   26. Gonfalon B. Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:12 PM (#4361182)
Well, the difference is that football's death spiral includes actual deaths.

And spirals!
   27. TDF, situational idiot Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:13 PM (#4361183)
I have this feeling, alas, that the only thing that will cause football to truly change for the safety of the players will be a death on the field. And not just a death, it'll have to be a death in the NFL or a big-time NCAA game.
Yea, because MLB has never had an on-field death.

   28. Dale Sams Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:23 PM (#4361191)
Well I sure wouldn't want my kid to not be able to play a field-lot game of unpadded tackle football with his friends....on the other hand when with I played with my friends, we wern't influenced by a crapload of macho ########, leading to us using our heads as battering rams.*

*Though I did get knocked out for a few secs in high school during lunch hour by a forearm. And even THEN the high schools were savvy enough to tell us to knock off the 'tackle stuff'. Forcing us to try and hide the games behind the stadium in some sort of illegal, underground tackle football.

As for..."An actual death required to effect change" What are we talking about here? Outlawing kick-offs altogether? How bout only allowing 10 passes per game? Go to flag football? I did at one point propose a weight limit on players though.
   29. Joey B. is being stalked by a (Gonfa) loon Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:44 PM (#4361203)
What a gay article. But it's Salon, so what can you expect.
   30. rufus was here Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:54 PM (#4361208)
10. Not a chance.

I'm married to a pediatrician, and she says that many of her patients who play football and get concussions are pushed by their parents to go back on the field as soon as possible, something the coaches are also encouraging. Scary stuff.

As far as I'm concerned, the sooner this barbaric sport becomes marginalized (a la boxing, etc), the better.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:57 PM (#4361212)
baseball committed near-suicide with the 1994 players’ strike and the ensuing “steroid era,”

You guys let this one pass? Obviously the 1994 work stoppage hurt attendance, the sillyball era was an era of tremendous growth for baseball which has maintained through the roid scandals.

the collective shock of our discovery that the endpoint of this gladiatorial combat is actual death.

C'mon. Potential concussion-related deaths aside, if you weren't aware of the debilitating effects of football, you weren't paying attention. From Wiki's entry on Jim Otto:

Otto punished his body greatly during his NFL career, resulting in nearly 40 surgeries, including 28 knee operations (nine of them during his playing career alone) and multiple joint replacements. His joints are riddled with arthritis, and he has debilitating back and neck problems.

One time, Otto nearly died on the operating table. He also fought off three life-threatening bouts of infections due to his artificial joints, and during one six-month stretch, was without a proper right knee joint because he had to wait for the infection to clear up before another artificial one could be implanted. Today, Otto is handicapped, but he says he wouldn't change a thing if given the opportunity to do it over again. It's detailed, proudly, in his book, "The Pain of Glory" published in 2000.

Jim Otto had his right leg amputated on August 1, 2007.


Dick Butkus:

Butkus filed a lawsuit against the Bears in 1975, claiming the Bears knowingly kept him on the field when he should have had surgery on his knees. The Bears denied Butkus and their other players the right to seek second opinions with doctors other than the Bears team doctor. The team would also distribute painkillers so that Butkus, a major gate attraction, would be active.

Chuck Hughes, the NFL's on-field death (heart attack, not football-related).

But, yes, that sickening feeling in the stomach pops up every time a batter gets hit in the head or a pitcher takes one there just as surely as a Darryl Stingley or Napoleon McCallum type hit does.
   32. McCoy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:57 PM (#4361213)
Hasn't boxing become marginalized by MMA?
   33. bookbook Posted: February 03, 2013 at 03:58 PM (#4361214)
Really? You still use "gay" as a derogatory adjective? I guess all the hits to your head excuses you for not entering the 21st century.
   34. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:01 PM (#4361216)
Hasn't boxing become marginalized by MMA?

I think it's the other way around. MMA has grown into the combat sport void created by the marginalization of boxing.
   35. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:05 PM (#4361218)
What a gay article. But it's Salon, so what can you expect.


This comment is gay.
   36. Commissioner Bud Black Beltre Hillman Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:09 PM (#4361220)
C'mon. Potential concussion-related deaths aside, if you weren't aware of the debilitating effects of football, you weren't paying attention.
Well that's one hell of an aside; the only reason that Salon is writing about football's "death spiral" is because of concussion-related deaths. I'm sorry to single this post out, but I'm sick of hearing about how "everyone knows" how dangerous football is and the players "know what they're getting in to". This is ########. Nobody knew about the CTE problem until a few years ago, and we still don't know exactly how it happens or how widespread it is.
   37. Gamingboy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:10 PM (#4361221)
I have this feeling, alas, that the only thing that will cause football to truly change for the safety of the players will be a death on the field. And not just a death, it'll have to be a death in the NFL or a big-time NCAA game.

Yea, because MLB has never had an on-field death.


The death of Chapman was one of the reasons that the spitball was banned, and it sparked some early investigation into batting helmets (although they wouldn't start really popping up for a few decades).
   38. Dale Sams Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:12 PM (#4361222)
This comment is gay.


No it's retarded, lame and indicative of a midget brain.
   39. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:18 PM (#4361228)
Boxing was marginalized long before MMA came along. MMA is just the "extreme" form of boxing catering to the handful of US (and probably larger international) contingent of boxing and wrestling fans. Also maybe something to do with everybody wanting to see video game violence for real.

While the general trend seems toward increasing safety in sports, there's clearly a smaller opposite trend in the "extreme" direction and almost every small-time sport has its extreme wing. (I'm not sure what "extreme" baseball would look like.) Possibly this all started with the Ironman -- certainly the first well-known event I can think of. One of the century rides I do in cycling now offers the option to do it twice, four times or eight times (800 miles of cycling in 2.5-3 days) and even let a guy do I think 10 laps one year. On open roads no less.

If you do the 8-lapper you qualify for the Race Across America which is about 3000 miles. Last year's winner did it in a bit over 8 days. They have folks in their 50s and 60s doing this to themselves.

These athletes are always looking for the greater high, whether it be difficulty or endurance. MMA (presumably) draws a better TV audience than the Race Across America though.
   40. Publius Publicola Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:23 PM (#4361234)
They'll make some changes that will delude enough people into thinking they've fixed the problem (baseball's drug testing program is a road map) and they will never miss cashing a check.


While I understand where you are coming from, I'm not so sure. I remember when driving after drinking was considered a cool, macho thing to do. Not anymore. I think the immediate danger for football is the looming lawsuits. Some of them are going to be successful and it remains to be seen if the game can withstand that onslaught and still remain a game that we all recognize.
   41. JJ1986 Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:27 PM (#4361237)
I don't really know anything about how helmets work, but there would have to be a huge improvement in making helmets that aren't so incredibly hard on the outside. Do that, maybe eliminate kickoffs, change the fumble recovery rules so that people don't get to punch each other in the middle of a pile, and eject players for blows to the head (not the touching the QBs helmet ones).
   42. Publius Publicola Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:28 PM (#4361238)
Hasn't boxing become marginalized by MMA?


That, and all the corruption.
   43. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:28 PM (#4361239)
No it's retarded, lame and indicative of a midget brain.


100% agree, but I chose to put it in language that Joey can understand.
   44. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:28 PM (#4361240)
I think it's the other way around. MMA has grown into the combat sport void created by the marginalization of boxing.


This. The thing is though that boxing was marginalized because of corruption, lack of credible structure and titles, and the fact that major championship fights (especially at the heavyweight level) were both too infrequent and never shown on anything except pay-per-view. If boxing had been marginalized because people found it too unsafe and violent, it wouldn't have been replaced by MMA which seems to me to be even more violent and unsafe.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you put on old fashioned Roman-style gladiatorial fights to the death, millions would pay to watch... millions would also be outside protesting, but millions would watch.
   45. Publius Publicola Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4361243)
I don't really know anything about how helmets work,


I think the idea is to encase the brain in an impermeable shell, but it seems all that does after a hit is to cause the brain to rattle around inside the skull like a ping pong ball.
   46. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4361244)
Well that's one hell of an aside; the only reason that Salon is writing about football's "death spiral" is because of concussion-related deaths. I'm sorry to single this post out, but I'm sick of hearing about how "everyone knows" how dangerous football is and the players "know what they're getting in to".

You missed the point. Let me put it more bluntly:

If you only came to realize how debilitating football is due to the recently discovered issues of concussion-related death then you have had your head in the sand for your entire football-watching life. Did you read the bit on Jim Otto? Did you seriously think I was promoting that as a good outcome?

And did you bother to read the bit I was commenting on? Here it is again: the collective shock of our discovery that the endpoint of this gladiatorial combat is actual death. Yep, as long as it was just disability, lifelong pain, crippling arthritis at 40, amputation we were fine with the "endpoint of this gladiatorial combat." The author of the piece apparently never gave a thought to what happens to these guys after they limp off the field for the last time until now.

It's been a barbarous sport for my entire lifetime. Some of us didn't require actual deaths to recognize that.
   47. greenback likes millwall, they don't care Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:34 PM (#4361246)
My ex-to-be wants our daughter (age 6) to play football over her preference of baseball/t-ball, as it's safer...

Didn't your daughter get hit by a foul ball when she was an infant?

Darryl Stingley came pretty darned close.

Stuff like 'The Jack Tatum Hit of the Week' kinda gets to the football mentality. No, I wouldn't want my kid to play football.
   48. BDC Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:42 PM (#4361250)
I don't really know anything about how helmets work, but there would have to be a huge improvement in making helmets that aren't so incredibly hard on the outside

There's actually been quite a lot of thought put into this. One problem is that softer materials mean more friction. When a modern football helmet hits another player or the ground, it tends to slide; if it didn't, every play involving the head would twist the neck of the wearer – well, even more than current helmets do.

If you can invent a soft but slick helmet, you'll find a market.
   49. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:44 PM (#4361252)
I would never let my child play American football. In fact, I'm on a bit of a Facebook crusade to get extended friends and family from the southlands to get their boys out of the game as well. It's an uphill battle, but one I think is worthwhile.

RE: the concussion/CTE problem, the latest research indicates that the problem isn't necessarily big, violent "helmet to helmet" collisions (though clearly those are bad news) but equally the smaller, repetitive hits and jars to the head (especially on the lines.) A game full of swats to the head by "swim move" d-linemen is worse statistically than one crushing hit from Ed Reed. In that same line, there's a growing pool of data against headers in soccer.
   50. Greg K Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:45 PM (#4361255)
I played football one year - starting middle line-backer, woot! We actually had a guy on our team later play in the CFL. I like to brag that I usually got the best of him in practice, but that's mostly because he was a little guy suited to the open field (he played in the CFL as a kick returner), and I'd only ever go up against him in the middle where there was no room to make any moves.

I did have one hit where I wasn't exactly seeing straight for a minute or two afterwards. I didn't think about it at the time, mostly because thinking in the long term isn't in the job description for a 14 year old, but in retrospect I'm glad I just did the one year. I stopped mostly because the coaches did a lot more yelling than I care to hear in peace time.

EDIT: Apparently someone named Clifton Dawson has played for a few NFL teams and was also on one of the teams in our conference that year. I don't recall him personally, but the team he played for destroyed us pretty handily. So that's something I didn't know before today. In all likelihood I was run over by a future NFL running back!
   51. BDC Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:51 PM (#4361258)
I was OK with my son playing football, 12 years ago. But he quit after a week of practice (in the afternoon, in August, in Texas). Later he did play rugby in college, and doctors discouraged him from continuing after he suffered a concussion.
   52. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:53 PM (#4361261)
The thing is though that boxing was marginalized because of corruption, lack of credible structure and titles, and the fact that major championship fights (especially at the heavyweight level) were both too infrequent and never shown on anything except pay-per-view. If boxing had been marginalized because people found it too unsafe and violent, it wouldn't have been replaced by MMA which seems to me to be even more violent and unsafe.

Nope. Yes, corruption in boxing had a lot to do with it. The move to pay-per-view wasn't a driver of boxing's decline in popularity it was a response to its decline. The boxing audience quickly became a specialized audience once Ali left the scene. Well, outside of the heavyweights it had been a niche market for a very long time, probably starting after WW2 when lots of stuff became pretty marginalized. When you have a small but dedicated audience, you take them for everything you can. Basically, if you can draw enough eyeballs to generate enough ad revenue, you're on regular TV; if you can't, the fans have to pay for it.

Sure, some violent stuff draws "millions" of viewers. Well, in a country of 330 million people, just 1% is 3.3 million yet 1% is fully marginalized. WS game 1 drew only 13 M viewers -- do you think gladiatorial battles to the death would do better than that? Do you think MMA can come close enough to that to ever make it on network TV? Ah, who knows, produce it cheaply enough and you can get anything on network TV.

It's a big country and almost everybody has at least one taste that's well outside the mainstream whether it's boxing or MMA or death metal or avant-garde jazz or competitive knitting or defecating on their sexual partners. Doesn't mean any of those are popular and they don't tell you anything about cultural trends except that, unlike the 50s, I can mention people defecating on their sexual partners and not be shunned for even knowing such a thing existed.

For the record, I prefer to defecate in full privacy.

   53. bfan Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:54 PM (#4361263)
The tremendous loss of time which overattention to football occasions is its worst feature, though the brutality and maiming are serious evils, too.

– New York Times editorial, 23 November 1897

Always correct; sometimes early.
   54. Commissioner Bud Black Beltre Hillman Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:06 PM (#4361269)
You missed the point. Let me put it more bluntly:

If you only came to realize how debilitating football is due to the recently discovered issues of concussion-related death then you have had your head in the sand for your entire football-watching life. Did you read the bit on Jim Otto? Did you seriously think I was promoting that as a good outcome?

And did you bother to read the bit I was commenting on? Here it is again: the collective shock of our discovery that the endpoint of this gladiatorial combat is actual death. Yep, as long as it was just disability, lifelong pain, crippling arthritis at 40, amputation we were fine with the "endpoint of this gladiatorial combat." The author of the piece apparently never gave a thought to what happens to these guys after they limp off the field for the last time until now.

It's been a barbarous sport for my entire lifetime. Some of us didn't require actual deaths to recognize that.
Well, I guess you're a better person or something. The point of my post was that I do make a distinction between those physical impairments, up to and including the exceptional amputation, and developing dementia in middle age, partiularly given the rate.

I think football players and fans weigh it up and are OK with pretty much all players aching more than non-athletes for their whole lives, a decent number stuck with a wonky knee or arm they can't raise above their shoulder, and a small number (but way more than you'd expect from the general population) dealing with a life-changing/threatening issue. Former players with brains like alzheimers patients is at the extreme end of that scale (if it's even on the same scale) in and of itself; but what should really prompt the collective shock is the discovery of CTE wherever they look for it. People are willing to write off the occasional Jim Otto or Terry Long; anyone could die in an elevator leaving the office. If serious mental problems are a likely consequence of playing in the NFL (or even just certain positions), I'd hope they're not OK with that.
   55. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:08 PM (#4361271)

Sure, some violent stuff draws "millions" of viewers. Well, in a country of 330 million people, just 1% is 3.3 million yet 1% is fully marginalized. WS game 1 drew only 13 M viewers -- do you think gladiatorial battles to the death would do better than that? Do you think MMA can come close enough to that to ever make it on network TV? Ah, who knows, produce it cheaply enough and you can get anything on network TV.


CTE & Pro wrestling:

Last year, Wrestlemania XXVIII drew 80k in Miami and over 1.25M PPV buys at 60$ a shot. This year, WrestleMania is expected to top those numbers and it will be headlined by Hollywood's top action star, The Rock.

It's also important to note that Chris Benoit's brain was in awful condition when he committed those heinous acts, and since that point, WWE has materially changed the in-ring nature of their product by vastly limiting the number of maneuvers that involve the head and neck, no matter how safe they may appear. The Saturday morning kids show outright bans any attack above the shoulders. Obviously, matches are predetermined and somewhat choreographed, but I think this is indicative of the direction we're probably headed.
   56. smileyy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:14 PM (#4361275)
[55] Is there an idea of how much of a difference that is making? I have no doubt its a lot (nobody should ever do a swandive headbutt), but I wonder how much of the continuous low-grade hits to the head (like football line play) remain.
   57. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:17 PM (#4361276)
The Saturday morning kids show outright bans any attack above the shoulders. Obviously, matches are predetermined and somewhat choreographed, but I think this is indicative of the direction we're probably headed.


A quick review of the last 4th down play in the NFC Championship would indicate that the NFL is equally predetermined and choreographed.
   58. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:17 PM (#4361277)
a friend of mine is very active in youth football. i couldn't find anything online to validate what he told me which was that new participation has plunged the last few years. he said leagues were consolidating teams because young kids are being directed to other sports.

that's the canary in the coal mine if true.

you just won't see the impact for another 20 years
   59. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:19 PM (#4361279)
A quick review of the last 4th down play in the NFC Championship would indicate that the NFL is equally predetermined and choreographed.


Did the league also choreograph the Falcons not scoring any points in the 2nd half?
   60. smileyy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:29 PM (#4361283)
[58] I'm curious who'll get all of that talent. Baseball? Basketball? Soccer? Tennis? Ultimate Frisbee?
   61. Dr. Vaux Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4361285)
Why would the NFL choreograph the Falcons not winning? Atlanta is a huge, football-crazed market. If they were controlling who wins, they'd be on the preferred side.
   62. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:40 PM (#4361287)
Why would the NFL choreograph the Falcons not winning? Atlanta is a huge, football-crazed market. If they were controlling who wins, they'd be on the preferred side.

Yeah, right, I'm sure the NFL would prefer to feature a team from the underarm of America over San Francisco. Dream on.

Not that Sam's trolling should ever be taken seriously, but who outside of Atlanta doesn't prefer today's matchup over the alternative? Who wants to watch a team that blew 20 point and 17 point leads AT HOME in back-to-back weeks?
   63. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:43 PM (#4361288)
Why would the NFL choreograph the Falcons not winning? Atlanta is a huge, football-crazed market. If they were controlling who wins, they'd be on the preferred side.


College football. Falcons, not so much.

Why? Because, the hilarious conspiracy theory goes, they wanted the Harbaughs to face each other. Which begs the question, why didn't they do that last year?
   64. Greg K Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:43 PM (#4361289)
Who wants to watch a team that blew 20 point and 17 point leads AT HOME in back-to-back weeks?

Sounds like a recipe for a Super Bowl with a thrilling comeback!
   65. rufus was here Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:45 PM (#4361290)
I'm curious who'll get all of that talent. Baseball? Basketball? Soccer? Tennis? Ultimate Frisbee?


Funny -- I wish it were tennis (a great sport with long-declining popularity and no one promising in the American ranks), but figure skating is about as likely as tennis.

Seriously, up here in the Northeast schools (high school and college), lacrosse is a big winner when a kid decides not to play football. It's another sport that values size and speed, with lots of contact, but isn't as dangerous as football if you look at the rates of head injuries.
   66. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:46 PM (#4361291)
Yeah, right, I'm sure the NFL would prefer to feature a team from the underarm of America over San Francisco. Dream on.


The 49ers didn't play the Lions.
   67. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:50 PM (#4361292)
10: Hell no.

Regarding 'actual death' to spur change, we regularly (if infrequently) see guys get paralyzed on the football field. If that's not 'bad enough' I don't know that a freak death would do it. But I totally buy Harveys' [58] and fully believe we'll start to see a marked dropoff in participation beginning soon (or now) and rolling up level by level. As for how the NFL will cope, and/or where those athletes will go if not football... interesting questions. Soccer maybe a bit, could be lacrosse or even rugby as previously mentioned will become the next big thing. Or Olympic-style team handball. That'd be cool.

Edit: Coke to [65] on lacrosse mention
   68. STEAGLES is all out of bubblegum Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:52 PM (#4361294)
If you can invent a soft but slick helmet, you'll find a market.
i would think a breakaway helmet would be an ideal solution. you get the slickness of the outer shell, but because the helmet isn't entirely rigid, you'd also limit its use as a projectile weapon.

and with the advancements in technology, you could fine-tune the point at which the helmet breaks away so that you'd know to take that player off the field and evaluate him for concussive injury. if you make a star player sit out 10 plays or 10 minutes or a quarter or a half because his helmet broke, i think you'd start to see such players make a much stronger attempt to avoid using his head as a battering ram.



   69. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:53 PM (#4361295)
Did the league also choreograph the Falcons not scoring any points in the 2nd half?


Twice, in fact.
   70. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 05:58 PM (#4361298)
Lacrosse isn't going to suddenly pick up a ton of players. There's no money in it. Participation might increase a little but the top athletes are going to migrate sports that have an immediate professional future. And I've only seen lacrosse played spring, so it wasn't an alternative to football, it was in addition too. Plus, it's a contact sport, parents aren't going to be so keen on not having their kids play one contact sport so that they can instead play a different one.
   71. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:01 PM (#4361302)
i won't live to see it but would not be surprised to see college football primarily a regional sport concentrated in the midwest and the south by 2050

   72. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:02 PM (#4361304)
Lacrosse is a sport targeted to rich, northeastern white kids. There's a reason football draws its athletes from predominantly lower class, black families. It's the same reason the front lines of the military is populated by poor kids.
   73. Greg K Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:09 PM (#4361305)
Lacrosse is a sport targeted to rich, northeastern white kids. There's a reason football draws its athletes from predominantly lower class, black families. It's the same reason the front lines of the military is populated by poor kids.

Not that I've given it a great deal of thought, but I've always found this interesting. Football seems like one of the more expensive sports - there's quite a lot of equipment that goes with it. Of course, lacrosse has a lot of specialized equipment as well so I don't mean to draw the comparison between those two.

The obvious parallel is soccer, which seems like the perfect sport for the lower classes. It sure seems to be the go-to sport in a lot of developing nations. Yet in America it seems to be a thoroughly wealthy white kid thing to do.

I suppose it just goes to show there's a lot more to sport selection than cost.
   74. GregD Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:13 PM (#4361310)
i won't live to see it but would not be surprised to see college football primarily a regional sport concentrated in the midwest and the south by 2050
Isn't this virtually true already? I could see the present imbalance accelerating quickly

I only have daughters but wouldn't let my hypothetical son play in the current situation. Someone in the NFL office should have a big poster made of the Dempsey-Tunney fight with 100,000 people at Soldier Field and put it up in every exec's office as a warning that popularity doesn't have to be steady.
   75. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:13 PM (#4361311)
Football is expensive to build an infrastructure for, but for the players it's not that much. I'm not sure if you have to "rent" your own pads, but I doubt as much. The appeal of football for the lower classes is that all it really requires is an extreme dedication to destroying your body for a lottery ticket to getting yourself and your family out of the existential situation they're in.
   76. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:15 PM (#4361314)
i won't live to see it but would not be surprised to see college football primarily a regional sport concentrated in the midwest and the south by 2050


Isn't this virtually true already? I could see the present imbalance accelerating quickly


I could see this happening quickly, as northeastern and PacWest states begin to remove state funding from football programs (which means, you know, not subsidizing the physical destruction of "student athletes" at state funded schools.)
   77. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:20 PM (#4361316)
state budgets being what they are this process may be accelerated
   78. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM (#4361322)
Helmets are good for preventing skull fractures, but they can do nothing to prevent concussions.

As an aside, I watched the doc "Head Games" the other night and recommend it.
   79. DA Baracus is a "bloodthirsty fan of Atlanta." Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM (#4361323)
Not that I've given it a great deal of thought, but I've always found this interesting. Football seems like one of the more expensive sports - there's quite a lot of equipment that goes with it. Of course, lacrosse has a lot of specialized equipment as well so I don't mean to draw the comparison between those two.


When I played lacrosse in high school it was all club teams, there were no high school teams. So we had to pay for everything. Equipment, the field, a coach, transportation, etc. By the time my brother played our high school and a handful of others picked it up, so players were bused, jerseys were provided, a coach was paid for, things the football team already had. But it was still very much a niche sport. And that was in the northeast, and lacrosse is still of course very much a regional sport.
   80. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM (#4361324)
Not that I've given it a great deal of thought, but I've always found this interesting. Football seems like one of the more expensive sports - there's quite a lot of equipment that goes with it. Of course, lacrosse has a lot of specialized equipment as well so I don't mean to draw the comparison between those two.


The cost, to the individual participant, these days is in travel. Travel football is really not much of an option, so it remains far more accessible to lower-income kids than baseball, soccer, volleyball (basketball is kind of an exception in that travel is a big part of it, though I suspect cost allowances are already being made for the very talented young kids from lower-income homes).


And as for 10. My boy hasn't and won't play throughout elementary and middle school. I would strongly advise against him playing in HS, though if he really wanted to play, I probably wouldn't stop him. But I'll do everything I can to steer him away.
   81. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:36 PM (#4361326)
(basketball is kind of an exception in that travel is a big part of it, though I suspect cost allowances are already being made for the very talented young kids from lower-income homes).

Nike and McDonald's pretty much entirely cover these expenses. They're farming American lower-income areas much, much more efficiently than MLB is doing the same in Latin America.
   82. Dale Sams Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:38 PM (#4361327)
I thought the data showed by virtue of being an athlete, that football players live *longer* because of their sport....now of course they can achieve the same thing by being runners..but still.
   83. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:40 PM (#4361328)
Nike and McDonald's pretty much entirely cover these expenses. They're farming American lower-income areas much, much more efficiently than MLB is doing the same in Latin America.


That's kind of what I figured. My kid played for his local youth league's all-star team last year, which got destroyed against some travel teams in a couple of weekend tournaments. Considering how expensive just the one overnight trip was, I assumed there had to be some subsidizing going on.

   84. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 03, 2013 at 07:40 PM (#4361362)
10. No, not a chance.
   85. BDC Posted: February 03, 2013 at 08:21 PM (#4361438)
Others may have, like, actual data :) but it's always been my impression that football players, especially those who play four years in college and/or play some pro ball, are by-and-large middle-to-uppermiddle-class, whatever their ethnicity. This may just be inflected by my living in Texas, where any kid who can plays football, but it aligns with the need to play several years in college (and stay nominally eligible at least) if you want a shot at the pros – unlike baseball or basketball. I could be quite wrong, or there could be regional differences; but I don't think that football is disproportionately the province of the working class or the outright poor.
   86. AndrewJ Posted: February 03, 2013 at 08:32 PM (#4361459)
10. No way. And a distant first cousin of mine by marriage was a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
   87. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: February 03, 2013 at 08:42 PM (#4361485)
10. Yes, and I'm not even a football fan since I am reading this site during the game and haven't watched a down. I played HS football and had a great time. Wouldn't let him play Pop Warner though.
   88. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 03, 2013 at 08:49 PM (#4361497)
Just anecdotally it seems lacrosse is where soccer was when I was a kid (late-70s/early-80s). It's got a fairly passionate if small group of fans but hasn't been able to benefit since those fans are 11-12 year old kids. I wouldn't be shocked if in 20-30 years the MLL was something meaningful. Not NFL or MLB but like MLS or NHL, a meaningful niche sport.
   89. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: February 03, 2013 at 09:24 PM (#4361558)
88. The difference is that in the 70s and 80s even though soccer wasn't much in the USA it was HUGE around the world. We won't be getting millions of immigrants pouring into the USA in the next few decades bringing with them a passion for lacrosse.
   90. Ebessan Posted: February 03, 2013 at 09:36 PM (#4361578)
Regarding 'actual death' to spur change, we regularly (if infrequently) see guys get paralyzed on the football field. If that's not 'bad enough' I don't know that a freak death would do it.

If they test (I don't know if they can/will) Jovan Belcher's brain and it comes back with CTE, that really should be the end. The NFL will never be able to argue that Kasi Perkins "knew the risks associated with the sport".

I wish it were tennis (a great sport with long-declining popularity and no one promising in the American ranks)

America does such a terrible job of developing tennis stars, it's unbelievable. We have 12 ATP Tour events here, and only one on clay. "The game is more about agility and speed than ever before, the skills most useful on clay. Let's address this by doing nothing at all."

The difference is that in the 70s and 80s even though soccer wasn't much in the USA it was HUGE around the world. We won't be getting millions of immigrants pouring into the USA in the next few decades bringing with them a passion for lacrosse.

Also, who's the Pele of lacrosse, exactly? The NASL was built on its ability to attract international stars. That was the catalyst for everything.
   91. AndrewJ Posted: February 03, 2013 at 09:42 PM (#4361592)
This blackout is emblematic of the state of the NFL the last 12 months or so.
   92. Dale Sams Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:03 PM (#4361629)
I'm not watching. How many more commercials did they manage to shove in during this 'blackout'?
   93. Rickey! In a van on 95 south... Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:27 PM (#4361658)
I'm absolutely certain no one from the Saints or the NFL will attempt to leverage this blackout into a new taxpayer funded stadium in New Orleans.
   94. Dan Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:32 PM (#4361671)
Articles like this one are the kind of thing that I think will really hurt the NFL, and even more so when similar articles can be written about the guys who are playing today, the guys that fans know so much more as actual faces and people from today's 24/7 sports media coverage and social media.
   95. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: February 04, 2013 at 12:27 AM (#4361881)
Articles like this one are the kind of thing that I think will really hurt the NFL, and even more so when similar articles can be written about the guys who are playing today, the guys that fans know so much more as actual faces and people from today's 24/7 sports media coverage and social media.

I'd be much more inclined to believe that if dozens of similar articles hadn't been written about other players for about the past 15 or 20 years. There's also a split between outsiders who want the entire nature of the game to be changed, and the players who just want to make sure that their retirement plan covers all future injury-related medical expenses. If the players were as indignant about the brutal style of play as the outside critics are, they wouldn't have come out against those Bountygate penalties the way they did.
   96. Jay Z Posted: February 04, 2013 at 01:10 AM (#4361907)
If football has recruitment issues, it will not die. It will just go to more foreign players like all of the other major sports. Presence of foreign players has not hurt those sports.

Football has an advantage in that it is more based on raw athletic talent than the other sports. I don't think you need to play football at a young age to make the NFL, it is all about being able to do certain things with your body. The coaches and scouts can work in foreign countries to identify the likely outstanding athletes that can play the sport without developing this nationwide feeder system, when they can more readily weed out the less talented players through skills measurement anyway.
   97. Red Menace Posted: February 04, 2013 at 01:55 AM (#4361921)
I'm not watching. How many more commercials did they manage to shove in during this 'blackout'?


The only commercials that aired during the blackout were for CBS shows. This makes sense when you think about it. Unless CBS air sellers were calling up Budweiser offering them another spot for 2M or so there's no way for it to work. Every commercial break in a Super Bowl is planned out and sold. Having unexpected time to fill doesn't mean a goldmine for the network.
   98. jobu Posted: February 04, 2013 at 02:38 AM (#4361936)
10] Leaning no, but it's far from decided. If you were to look at my boy, you'd say he looked like a fullback--massive thighs, big torso...and he's faster than any kid he's played against in flag football, soccer, or baseball so far. He loves playing football, and he's racked up >50 touchdowns in ~25 games. He lives for getting a pick-6. Obviously, physiques and physical ability change, but assuming things hold...if boys like my son don't play high school football, I don't know how schools will even field teams.
   99. zachtoma Posted: February 04, 2013 at 04:10 AM (#4361942)
like MLS or NHL, a meaningful niche sport.


As a hockey fan, *ouch*
   100. DanG Posted: February 04, 2013 at 04:30 AM (#4361946)
My son was always an excellent athlete, but we steered him to soccer, baseball and basketball. Soccer was the first to go, when he was 12; as you get into the older, competitive levels, the play gets much more violent and the refs are generally of low quality so they fail to adequately police the games.

Basketball went next, when he was 16. Most definitely a contact sport, like soccer, where players have little protection. He didn't enjoy the increasing physicality, and he suffered a couple injuries. Well, basketball without contact is like poker without betting; it can be a fun parlor game but doesn't make it as a competitive sport.

Baseball was always #1 with him. As a high school senior he was the #2 starting pitcher for a team that made the state quarterfinals (the #1 starter is playing Division 1 ball in college). By that time his main focus had shifted to other possibilities for his life than sports. The university he chose doesn't even play varsity baseball.
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