No more football? Crazy, right?

Jun. 16, 2013 @ 02:26 PM

Throughout the day I find myself frequenting the AP wire and various sports websites in search of the latest, most intriguing stories.

Most of the time I just find regurgitated stories tweaked a little to fit a certain team or sport, or another story about another player busted for drugs of some sort or even more ways to keep Tim Tebow in the news.

However, something caught my eye Friday evening. The headline of the story read “Lem Barney: No football in 20 years.”

What? No football?

For those who don’t know who Lem Barney is, he’s a former NFL cornerback who was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1992. And at the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy on Friday, Barney said that the development of bigger and stronger athletes will eventually be the end of modern football.

"The game is becoming more deadly today," Barney said. "It's a great game. I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiators. It's the greatest game for yesteryear's gladiators. But I can see in the next 10 to maybe 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether."

According to the AP report, Curtis Blackwell – co-founder of the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy – plans to conduct baseline tests on about 600 high school players this week so that the data is available if any of them have head injuries during the upcoming season.

Barney is one of the hundreds of current and former NFL players suing the league for their handling of head injuries. Current Denver Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson backed Barney’s shocking statement.

"They're trying to make the game safer, but it's a gladiators' sport and there's only so much safety you can bring to it," Vickerson said. "The best thing we can do is give these kids tools to learn how to tackle the right away."

The goal of the camp is to teach better, safer tackling techniques to high school players. But will that be enough? Can the game be safer? Will any of the teaching matter as players only become bigger, faster and stronger? Will the apparent dangers be the end of what’s become America’s game?

Nobody knows the answers to those questions, but Barney brings up a very interesting point and it got me thinking. I started to think of the factors of the game and our society that could lead to football eventually being frowned upon, but again, I found reasons why the game will only continue to grow.

Strangely enough, the factors for each were the same yet so different.

-Why football will remain immensely popular despite the injury factor.

American culture: Americans love violence. We live for the big hits. Crowds cheer loudest when players get “lit up.” Madden video games developed a “hit stick” feature that allows players to hit harder than they already do on the virtual rendition.

One of the fastest growing sports, and I use that term loosely, is mixed martial arts (MMA).

Personally, MMA fighting disgusts me. I can’t watch it. It’s essentially Roman gladiator fighting except we stop them before someone actually dies. But for some reason, this country eats it up. Somehow the sight of blood gushing from a man’s face while another man continues to beat on him is entertainment this country pays for.

Basically, I think if it’s something you can be arrested for doing in public, it shouldn’t be considered a sport.

With that said, the violent nature of football is appealing and it draws more fans than it deters. There have been plenty of horrific and tragic injuries during NFL, college and high school games, but we haven’t turned away yet.

Money: The amount of money associated with football is mind-boggling. It drives high school athletics, college athletics and even makes professional franchises and players rich beyond belief. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like money?

It’s simple risk vs. reward. Does the risk of life altering medical problems outweigh the monetary rewards the game can provide? For owners of teams and administrators of high school and college programs: Not a chance. I’m sure Rutgers football hated to see Eric LeGrand paralyzed during one of their football games years ago, but I assure you they didn’t think to shut down the program to prevent something happening like that to someone else. Why? Money.

But then you think, football programs won’t exist without players, and that’s true. But the allure of big money and fame is too much to ignore. In a society that worships celebrities and athletes the way we do, no kid will say to themselves, “I don’t want to play football because I’m afraid of the long-term effects it can have on my quality of life.” They see players on television with devoted fans, fast cars and beautiful wives. And just like money, who doesn’t want that life? And parents that hinge their future on the success of their children won’t stop them either if they think it can bring them into money.

I’m not saying all football parents think that way, but we all know that they’re out there.

-Why football will decline in popularity and eventually fizzle out.

American culture: Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss. We know more now about football and the risks that accompany the game than ever before, and look what’s happening. Parents are more wary about letting their children play. Players are coming out and suing the NFL. Football isn’t all about glory anymore, there are serious consequences being linked to the game.

Many will say the country is becoming “soft,” but I think better words would be “informed” and “cautious.”

Now that we’ve had several generations of players come and go, we see the effects the game can have. We see former greats like Earl Campbell, know for creating contact, needing help to get out of bed in the morning. And the more recent, incredibly tragic suicide of Junior Seau attributed to brain trauma strikes fear into anyone connected to the game.

We can build safer equipment for the game the same way we build safer cars, but the difference is that people have to get from one place to the other somehow; we don’t have to play football.

Money: People love making money, but they hate losing money even more. I’m afraid the NFL is about to figure that out the hard way with the multitude of lawsuits on their plate.

We live in a money-hungry society where people do anything they can to get an extra buck, especially if they don’t have to work for it. Look at the number of people on disability for reasons that make you scratch your head and those that milk unemployment benefits until they run dry. So now when players get hurt playing football, someone is going to get sued for a lot of money.

What happens when a high school punt returner gets hit in the head and is paralyzed and the parents sue the school for $1 million claiming faulty equipment or poor coaching? People sue for a lot more for a lot less. Chances are that school will lose a good chunk of change the way the NFL is about to. At what point is the risk of monetary loss greater than the chance for monetary gain.

It only takes one incident to set a precedent.

Just some food for thought.