Ed Cunningham, who played pro-football for five years and did TV game coverage for 20 years afterwards, has walked away from the camera.
He initially gave as a reason the standard response of wanting to spend more time with his family. But he felt bad about that incomplete answer, and has now come clean.
A stronger answer is that he can’t stand to be a person who profits from a sport that is taking excessive risks with players’ lives. The key problem are injuries to the head, which lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
There is an “industrial complex of college football,” and broadcasters are complicit with coaches, sports promoters, and advertisers, Cunningham says, in pretending that things are okay when really there is a crisis.
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Everyone should have the freedom to choose their own career, so why doesn’t Cunningham respect the choices made by football players themselves, who choose their profession and continue to play knowing the risks?
His answer is highly personal—he’s been close to several players who have committed suicide suffering with CTE. Perhaps they knew the risks as abstract concepts, but that’s a whole lot different once it happens to you.
Is there behavioral irrationality at work—and hence a need for paternalism? Cunningham makes the case for simple rules:
- No hitting before high school
- Each player limited to only a certain number of plays per game
- Tougher penalties against players who use their helmets as a weapon when hitting
- Changing the composition of helmets to make them less dangerous
These are modest changes that likely don’t do enough to make the game much safer. Nothing is perfectly safe, so designing something to be risk free is both fruitless and undesirable.
My own preference is to withdraw the huge public subsidies to pro-football. These include the public-built sports stadiums, and the huge expenses of college athletics, that pretend to be giving youngsters an education when really it is unpaid sweatshop labor. Make colleges divest their major money athletic programs from their academic programs. Enforce greater accountability and transparency about the true cost to society of major league college athletics.
None of this will necessarily solve the problem Cunningham worries about, and some of these changes might make it worse.