In 1966, Time magazine shocked the world going into Easter season by asking the world, "Is God Dead?" Now as America approaches another holiday season, the Buffalo wings hung by the chimney with care, some dare ask the sacrilegious question: "Is the NFL dead?"
“Thirty years from now,” he said, “I don’t think it will be in existence. I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going — where they [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else — there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.
“Guys are getting fined, and they’re talking about, ‘Let’s take away the strike zone’ and ‘Take the pads off’ or ‘Take the helmets off.’ It’s going to be a thing where fans aren’t going to want to watch it anymore.”
That wasn't President Obama talking. That was Super Bowl-bound safety Bernard Pollard, wondering how the sport -- increasingly linked to concussions that in turn are linked to chronic headaches, dementia, depression and even suicide -- can make itself less violent without losing its appeal to fans. As the linked article notes, the real threat to the future of pro football is parents who won't let their kids take up the sport, now that more is known about the long-term risks. I don't know if that kills football, but it could auger a long period of decline -- not unlike boxing, which survives...but lacks the thrill of its early-to-mid 20th Century heyday.
It's strange to watch what's happening to American sports these days. On one hand, the public craves the excitement and escape of sports more than any time in our history -- check out the NFL's TV ratings if you have any doubt. At the same time, the pressure to win is destroying the actual athletes, on the inside (Lance Armstrong, or check out the latest on Alex Rodriguez) and on the outside (the late Junior Seau.)
Something has got to give.