The NFL: Not For Long

As a former St. Louisan I’m not sad to see the Rams leave town. They’ve always been the Los Angeles Rams to me, even when they won the Super Bowl. Football in St. Louis always came second to baseball, and St. Louis is destined to forever be a baseball town with its beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Rams fans can at least take some consolation in the fact the tax deductions they see in their weekly paychecks aren’t going to line the pockets of billionaires. Using public funds to build sports stadiums is a bad investment by communities, yet that doesn’t stop civic boosters from taking money from their poor and middle class citizens and showering it on billionaire team owners and real estate investors. But hey, at least it’s not as bad as tobacco growing states like my homestate of North Carolina handing cash to the cigarette companies.

Or is it?

A century ago boxing was  tied with baseball as the most popular sport. Today boxing is tied with “Not Sure” at the bottom of the country’s top 10 most popular sports. Football only edged out baseball to become the nation’s most popular pastime in the mid-1980s, and recently its popularity has leveled off. Movies like Concussion which chronicle the NFL’s cigarette company-like stonewalling the investigation into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and the publicized deaths of players such as Junior Seau might have something to do with this cooling of interest on the part of sports fans.

What will send the popularity of football plummeting? It will likely take a drastic event, and the only such event I can think of will be a player getting killed on the field. It’s only a matter of time. In fact one player has already died on the field, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes who suffered a heart attack while running back to the huddle and died on the way to the hospital in 1971.

Some Sunday in the future a player is going to take the gridiron and be killed on it in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans, an event not unlike the gladiator bouts in the Colosseum of Ancient Rome. Fans will have to ask themselves was his life worth their momentary joy? Was his life worth the billions the billionaire owners make from the sport? Fans will be faced with some hard and disturbing questions and their fervor for the sport will wane.

After all, it’s not like there aren’t alternatives out there already. Soccer’s popularity is growing in the US, driven by changing demographics. Basketball, both college and professional, continues to sell jerseys and sell out venues. And even venerable old baseball still manages to enthrall during the playoffs and World Series.

NFL players know their shot at fame, glory and millions is fleeting, leading them to understand the acronym NFL as meaning “Not For Long.” It’s about time the owners wake up to the same realization.

Update: “Right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if football isn’t around in 20, 25 years,” Former Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

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