The NFL’s Existential Crisis Just Got Worse

This is not just a concussion but a symbol of a sport and a cultural institution in crisis. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)

The fall of football and the NFL may slowly be in motion, and its further decline may have just been witnessed in the pages of the New York Times.

Specifically, I am talking about a study published yesterday in the Times analyzing the brains of 111 deceased NFL players.

Most shockingly, the study found that 99 percent of brains studied (110 out of 111) had physical evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The study looked at donated brains of deceased former NFL players from every position, ranging from the ages of 23 to 89. Forty-four of the brains found to have CTE belonged to lineman.

While the NFL has made its share of progress in recognizing and combating the issue of concussions and traumatic brain injuries among former and current players, this study only exacerbates those concerns and speaks to the serious existential crisis it poses to the league and the sport as a whole.

Sure, most followers of the NFL and its relationship to the concussion crisis, are in no need to be further convinced of the severity of concussions and traumatic brain injuries, but it is difficult not to be shocked by the stark reality of CTE as illustrated by the study.

More evidence of the sheer enormity of the problem just continues to pile up, so, in reality, these results ought to be completely unsurprising.

Yet, one has to wonder if this study may ultimately prove to be more consequential than any other previous study or piece of evidence articulating the true extent of football’s concussion predicament.

To me, the most terrifying aspect of this study is that the terrible extent of CTE in the brains of deceased players but the unfortunate realization that despite all the efforts the NFL has made to improve player safety, not much more can be done and soon enough football will see an inevitable, exponential decline.

For many Americans and others that enjoy the sport, that is a reality many would like to wishfully deny, though it must become a bona fide fear for millions of football fans. The unconquerable mountain of evidence of the link between concussions in football and CTE is unlike an existential crisis any sport or major cultural institution has faced.

The impending doom of football and the NFL should not be mourned; it should be accepted as proof athletes and parents value the health of the brain beyond any potential glory on the football field.

Of course, many individuals in the NFL will continue to downplay or outright deny the enormity of the concussion crisis.

Analysts and former players and coaches will undoubtedly decry any further attempt to make the sport safer as the sinister meddling of “politically correct” busybodies trying to destroy a pure and noble American institution.

The TV networks will still market the sport as the go-to entertainment product for millions on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights.

All of that will continue to occur even as football’s existential crisis perpetually lingers in the background.

Despite the incessant denial that football may become a relative afterthought in the American cultural imagination in two or three generations, youth football participation will further decline within the next decade.

Some of the NFL stars of today will die prematurely, and it will be revealed that they suffered from CTE as they slowly withered away due to memory loss, depression, addiction and suicide.

More players will retire early in the prime of their careers.

At some point, the top college players will avoid playing in the NFL altogether. The top high school athletes choose other sports.

Finally, and most crucially, parents all across the country will stop letting their children play.

Soon enough the sport will reach a point of no return, and by the end of the century (likely even earlier) the NFL web best be a niche sport akin to boxing, or at the very worse nonexistent or unrecognisably different.

Football’s existential crisis is real and it will not subside; let us all realize that now and prevent more football players from suffering the terrible fate of CTE.

Originally published at on July 26, 2017.

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