Friday, February 10, 2012

Here come the torches and pitchforks

LeBron & I have a new piece out at about how American football might die out and what the effects of its death may be.

Here's the bit that may get me into trouble:

Any location where football is the only game in town will suffer. If the Jets and Giants go, New York still has numerous other pro sports teams, Broadway, high-end shopping, skyscrapers, fine dining, and many other cultural activities. If college football dies, Norman, Oklahoma (current home to one of us), has … noodling? And what about Clemson, in South Carolina, which relies on the periodic weekend football surge into town for its restaurant and retail sales? Imagine a small place of 12,000 people that periodically receives a sudden influx of 100,000 visitors or more, most of them eager to spend money on what is one of their major leisure outings. It's like a port in the Caribbean losing its cruise ship traffic. (Overall, the loss of football could actually increase migration from rural to urban areas over time. Football-dependent areas are especially prominent in rural America, and some of them will lose a lot of money and jobs.)

Thanks to Bill Simmons and Dan Fierman for giving us these opportunities.


Chris said...

Whoa! Lead article on Bucket List getting shorter. Congrats Angus

Mike said...

My son is a freshman in high school. He played football as a youngster. It was interesting to watch as the kids that were smaller drop out of football through 6th, 7th, 8th, etc. A few more concussions at that level and even more will drop out.

The high school he attends already has dozens of kids playing lacrosse and soccer. In Dallas!

If your suggested scenario picks up steam in Dallas, first at high schools like Jesuit, Parish, St. Mark's and Highland Park. It won't be long before the large suburban schools follow suit.

The public choice battles that will be waged around stadiums will be fun to watch. Jerry Jones?

Finally, what about baseball? Would we not see more Dave Winfields in baseball in your future of no football?

Brad Hutchings said...

So I was one of those 90K who sustained a concussion playing football in high school, back in the late 80s when equipment presumably wasn't as good as today's. It was a clean sideline hit (by me) on a bigger player (who went on the NFL). My head didn't bounce off anything. My brain just got whiplashed. The impact was quite physical, but by no means a highlight film vicious hit.

It hurt like hell. In fact, it hurt like hell for a week, even with pain meds a doctor prescribed that evening. I was cleared to practice a couple weeks later by the same doctor, who was very knowledgeable on symptoms and risks back then. I certainly put no pressure on the doctor to get cleared. I was declared asymptomatic and in good health, which was true so far as I knew.

I haven't had any long term effects from that concussion. I suspect that is typically the case with most and perhaps nearly all players who suffer concussions playing the game. I also know that there are a relative few who suffer real serious damage.

Unless they can find a way to implant padding between the brain and the skull, equipment will not solve the problem. The bruising of the brain results from it having momentum and sloshing against the inside of the skull that has suddenly lost its momentum.

I think the bigger problem here is one of separating those who suffer ongoing debilitating effects from those who don't. And I suspect that most players don't. I know from a couple acquaintances who made it to the NFL as linemen that a typical lineman probably suffers several mild concussions each year from things like incidental head slaps, hitting the ground, blind-side blocks, etc. Some of the individual cases that have made the news are truly horrific and scary, but if they weren't outliers for those who suffer concussions while playing, we would already see unacceptable levels of that.

I guess I'm not sure that I buy the severity of the actual problem. I can buy that over-protective parents might overreact. And I can buy that maybe football becomes less popular for kids to play in the richer suburbs. Before concluding that concussions could mean the end of the sport, I'd need to see the numbers on severe, life altering concussions compared to injuries like paralysis, burst spleens, kidney damage, etc. The number of all concussions just strikes me, as a "survivor" of one, as overstating the problem.

Mike in York said...

Am being a bit thick here, and maybe I missed it in the article – but it seems to assume that if football dies, all those who used to be involved – as players or fans – will now just resume their lives staring out the window. Will they? Seems unlikely.

The article refers to the high % of firms on the fortune 500 that have vanished since 1983. The 2nd half of the equation is: they have been replaced! Surely if football dies, won’t the time, money and other resources just be devoted to other things?

Who knows what that will be, but surely there will be some of the same elements that occupy football – socialising, eating, drinking, buying stuff, travelling, whatever. Stuff free human beings have liked doing since year Adam was in short pants, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Maybe there will be some other sports? I’m an Aussie living in the UK. American football is OK and I don’t want to insult anybody, but don’t you think it‘s kinda slow and boring??? It’s worse than soccer. Maybe you guys will see some rugby or Australian rules football. Could that be the next thing. Yanks that I know who come to Oz to see it just love it.

Chris Lawrence said...

I do think you left out one potential loser: the college football athlete for whom a scholarship and (perhaps more importantly) the academic support associated with it may be his only real chance to succeed in college.

Sure, they can always try their hand at community college, but without "make grade or don't play" and the tutoring resources associated with it, probably 75% will drop out. No other college sport is big enough to absorb that many young men, and for many of them (linemen, for example), there's not really any other appropriate sport out there.

All that said, I think the long-term solution is to ditch most of the padding and hard helmets. Much of the violence of the game is due to players (largely on defense) knowing they're protected against the impact of a big hit; if James Harrison (for example) ever tried a helmet-to-helmet hit wearing rugby headgear, he'd never do that again.