One week before the Superbowl is to be played Ed Reed, the Ravens safety, claimed that with the move by the league to prevent injuries through introducing new rules and giving extra protection to offensive players that football will probably not exist in 30 years time. Though we do not know whether this prediction will come true, the disappearance of an entire sport seems unlikely, the biggest issue here is the debate that has surrounded Reed’s claim in the past week with political, sporting and cultural figures all making their own opinions known.
To me the biggest figure to have become embroiled in this debate is not the current President of the United States who claimed that while he loved the game he would be conflicted if it was his child playing, but the Cutler baby. Mini Cutler has really become a major figure in the NFL simply because his parents disagree publically on whether he would be allowed to play football. Big Cutler, most sacked man of the year for god knows how long, claims that baby Cutler would be allowed to play football since he believes the sport is safe enough, he would know about how effective his protective gear was and how much protection it actually gives him, and despite getting a concussion last season he still sees his diabetes as the biggest threat to his future. But if mother Kristin Kavallari has her way the Cutler child won’t be playing, the sport will be deprived of another Cutler.
But is the issue here whether or not parents want their children to play? Obama and Cutler have weighed in recently but last year Kurt Warner said that he would not want his children to play given what he knows about the sport. Ray Lewis on the other hand is determined to retire at the end of this year in order to watch his son play for the University of Miami supporting him from the stands. Players and ex-players are probably the best indication for whether or not the sport will continue in its present format because these are the people who have made careers through their ability to play and put their bodies on the line for their teams. Reed has plainly set up camp in the pro football section and recently claimed that Junior Seau, who committed suicide after suffering football related problems, knew what he was getting into when he played football, he knew the risks. Even if he knew the ‘risks’ does that mean that football should stay the same, nobody can ask Seau now what his opinion is on that matter: those that survive are able to dictate policy. Reed may be a stalwart of the game and he may be willing to give his life to the Ravens but that does not mean everybody is so eager to sacrifice themselves, and that counts double for the parents of players whether their children are playing football in school, college, professionally or at an amateur level. Maybe some parents are ok with it, Ray Lewis probably has few doubts about the safety of the sport or he would not have let his son play at even college level and especially never have let him play at running back. With the risks of football becoming publicised and the sport becoming politicised there runs the risk of a more parents refusing to allow their children to play, the talent pool becoming smaller as sports like soccer and baseball grow larger, and in the end the sport may just die like Reed predicts but on the other hand with a few tweaks the game may die in its current form but may be reborn in a new format designed with the intention of helping the players survive past 50.
This season has tarred the reputation of the NFL with the concussion report coming out mid season and the bounty scandal before the season even started. The combination of the discovery that the league had known the adverse effects of concussions on ex-players and finding out that a bounty program had existed in New Orleans, if not to purposely injure people then just to encourage the defensive players to work a little bit harder each snap. The fact of the matter is that the NFL has been brought into disrepute at times this season and work will need to be done to improve the image of both the league and the relationship between the players and Roger Goodell.