Football Gone in 20 Years?

Blame Thinkfeelness

According to Chuck Klosterman in his book, But What If We’re Wrong, a few years ago at a lecture in Toronto, an audience member asked Malcolm Gladwell to make a prediction about the future. He said, “In 20 years, American Football will be dead. No one will play it anymore.” He also predicted that no will eat red meat anymore, but that’s a prediction too extreme for my steak-loving-taste-bud-brain to tackle.

But football? The most popular sport in the country? Football, where a 114 million watched the Super Bowl in 2016? How could this be?

Consciousness, my friends. (Or as I like say, “thinkfeelness” where thinking about something morphs into feeling about it. But that’s hard to say, so we’ll pronounce it “thinkfulness.”) The prediction wouldn’t surprise me if it came true. Though I don’t think it will.

We became conscious of the horrible damages wreaked by boxing long ago, when Howard Cossell, boxing’s foremost fan and announcer, turned his back to the ring, walked away and declared it wrong. But guys still box despite the fact that if they do, they’ll likely be doddering idiots before they’re 60. Why? Because there’s money in it, and it only requires two men’s decisions.

But football takes a team. Collective consciousness. Reports came out five years ago that said that some 38% of all football players sustain lifetime-deleterious head injuries. More recently, the number went up to 98%. Football players start in high school. Moms are now conscious that if their boys play football, there is a fairly high likelihood that they’ll be brain-injured for life. This will slowly deplete the number of boys whose parents encourage them to play, or even allow them to play. It could be that consciousness of injury becomes so widespread that it kills football by killing the supply of trained men willing to participate.

I used to love football, and when I was watching and people got hurt, I used to be happy if it happened to the other team, and sad if it was one of my team’s players. But now, as what I know makes me thinkfeel, I wince at a deep level when people get hit hard, when they’re crushed under a pile of 280-pounders, when they’re taken out from the side, when their heads hit the ground and double bounce. It has begun to hurt to see it. And so, I’ve cooled on football. Strategically it’s still one of the most intriguing sports ever invented. Physically, it’s stupid violent.

Perhaps. Malcolm Gladwell is right. Maybe stats about long-term injuries will become so widely known, perhaps movies like Will Smith’s Concussion will bleed into our brains, perhaps parents will become so frightened for their children’s future that they’ll cut of the supply of players, and perhaps someday, everyone will wince at perceiving long-term injuries as they happen in real time, and stop watching.

Hell, there’s always basketball, my new favorite. And a sport of gentlemen where after a game, opponents hug each other. Hell, it’s friendlier than Congress! (But I’ll leave that for another day.)