If you haven’t heard, there’s been a lot to talk about concussions and football. Specifically, how the new research into what effects concussions, or even repeated subconcussive hits, have on the brain. The kind of hits that happen multiple times to each player in the course of a normal football game. If there’s only one takeaway from concussions and the future of professional football, make it this: As soon as a direct link between CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and repeated concussions, the NFL is as good as dead. The link, which seems to daily move to a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, would instantly make football impossibly expensive to insure at the student level. Which means that the NFL would slowly but surely wind up in the same dark corridors as boxing.
That’s not a reach at all, by the way. For as much of an institution as American football is, the shelf life is imminent if new waves of players aren’t signing up to play in the Pee Wee and high school leagues across the country. It’s hard to get people to appreciate a sport if they don’t play it, and the waning nature of most sports fandom (let’s be honest, almost none of us have the time to be quite as dedicated to our teams as when we were teenagers or younger) means that leagues depend on the sustained energy and enthusiasm of a constant infusion of youth. The best examples are in some of the more niche sports, like tennis, or golf, or the action sports. Who pays attention to those? If you answered, ‘participants of all skill levels and basically nobody else,’ you’re right on the money.
The same way it’s nearly impossible to get anyone to care about the French Open if they never learned how to play the game, a world that has linked CTE and football is going to be a far cry from the gridiron crazed, ritualized do or die Sundays that are so common today. If generations grow up without football (as a whole, there will always be practitioners, even if playing football is directly linked to terminal brain damage), it’s going to be a shell of itself. And the NFL is going to turn into the biggest science deniers this side of Big Tobacco and the fossil fuel industry before it happens. Don’t believe us? Here are four ways you know that the concussion crisis is exactly that.