This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn’t worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it’s mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.
Having played football for most of my childhood and being the brother of a former halfback for North Carolina, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable scenario. But I like the larger question of whether football sport franchises will continue if the NFL ceases to be. The popularity of titles like Madden are tied to the updated rosters that allow you to play as your favorite players and build realistic teams. It’s fantasy fantasy football as Tom Bissell outlined a couple weeks ago.
But isn’t it possible to fall in love with the rules of football? Perhaps that will carry on the games legacy. We don’t have the gladiator battles of the Coliseum but they live on in Street Fighter and Tekken and for that matter, the Coliseum was often flooded to re-enact sea battles. That could be days that await when the danger of football has made actual perfomance of the sport a liability, but open the door virtual enactments of it.