EDITORIAL: Football's reign in peril

York Dispatch

Football is the undisputed king of American sports.


That hasn't always been the case, however. A century ago, baseball, boxing and horse racing were probably the most popular sports in the country.No matter the level — high school, college or professional — football stands alone as the single most successful athletic endeavor in the nation in terms of attendance, interest and money.

It just goes to show that a lot can change over the course of time.

Football may find that out. It probably won't happen anytime soon, but over the course of the upcoming decades, football may see its reign on the U.S. sports throne threatened.

If that does happen, there is probably one word that will be to blame — concussions.

The concussion issue hit close to home in the past week when it was revealed that the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of high school sports in the state, was being sued by the families of three athletes in the western part of the commonwealth. The lawsuit claims the PIAA did little to protect the athletes from, or help them with, concussions suffered while playing high school sports. Two of the athletes were football players.

More worrisome for the PIAA is that it's a class-action lawsuit that also seeks to cover other Pennsylvania student-athletes who experienced similar medical issues while practicing and playing PIAA-sanctioned sports. That could potentially include some athletes right here in York County.

The lawsuit wants to force the PIAA to establish a medical-monitoring trust fund to pay for ongoing and long-term expenses of student athletes and former student athletes injured by concussions.

That follows similar lawsuits at both the college and pro levels. In fact, in April, a federal judge approved a plan to resolve thousands of NFL concussion lawsuits that could cost the league $1 billion over 65 years.

That's some serious coin, even for an organization as flush with cash as the NFL.

Still, despite that plan, and multiple moves by the NFL to implement new protocols to protect the players, there are no signs that the concussion controversy in football will end anytime soon.

In fact, if anything, it seems to be picking up steam.

There's a movie set for Christmas Day general release titled "Concussion," starring Will Smith, who portrays a forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by the NFL to suppress his research on the chronic brain damage suffered by dozens of pro football players.

In one highly publicized case, Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau was found to have chronic brain damage after he committed suicide at age 43.

Tune into ESPN or sports talk radio, and sooner or later, the concussion debate is likely to soon be a prime topic of conversation. During these debates, the same questions come up again and again.

Who is to blame? What can be done to prevent them? Should the athletes simply accept potential concussions as the natural outcome of willingly playing a violent and dangerous game?

The questions will not end anytime soon — and that should have the NFL, in particular, and football enthusiasts, in general, worried.

The longer the concussion issue remains front and center, the more likely it is that parents will prevent their children from taking up the game out of fear that they could be seriously, and permanently, injured.

Without many kids continuing to play the game, the future of football could seriously suffer.

Then there's the money aspect.

Football is already an expensive game to play and watch, and the potential of huge payouts in concussion lawsuits will only increase those expenses. Some parents who might be willing to have their kids play the game may be prevented from doing so because of exorbitant costs. And fans who want to attend games may not be able to do some because of skyrocketing ticket prices.

Fewer players and fewer fans may translate into decreased national interest in the future.

It's a combination that could eventually end football's reign as the king of American sports.