With the announcement by pro football player Chris Borland that he is retiring because of concerns over the long-term impact of the physical beating he endures in his sport, the future of the sport is now a hot topic. The discussion has political overtones. Many lefties appear to expect, even hope for, the end of football. Righties tend to hope and expect that the game is forever. Cynics from either side think the game is not in real trouble, though the bases of their views are different.
Yes, football is good because it develops desirable qualities in the players, it celebrates behaviors and attitudes essential to a vital and prosperous society, it makes a lot of money for a lot of people, and it is a lot of fun for both players and spectators. But yes, football is also dangerous. The danger of the game is at the heart of its appeal to those who love it, whether as players or watchers. It takes a certain form of courage (not to mention intelligence, discipline, patience, and athletic ability) to play the game at all, at any level, from Pop Warner to the NFL. Football players are our peacetime heroes, just as our armed forces are our wartime heroes. That is hardly the whole story, but it is not my intention to run through all the arguments that must be considered by the parents of a 10-year-old boy who seeks parental permission to play football.
What I do think noteworthy is the comment by a local sports-show commentator, a former NFL player, that football is forever because there will always be an ample supply of talented males who correctly perceive football as their best possible escape – maybe their only one – from a difficult, under-privileged home situation. Even if they do not necessarily love the game. The commentator is a black man, and I trust you will excuse me for considering that relevant.
I am among the white guys who play along with the joking observations about how the only white players in football today play offensive line, quarterback, fullback, tight end, and kicker (punters and placekickers). Yes, of course, there are exceptions, like J.J. Watt, and the “white receiver” – the small but tough white guy who always gets open for short crossing routes but lacks the speed for the deep routes. But overall, the NFL seems to have gotten blacker and has now settled into race-position stereotypes.
So, does that mean we will always have an NFL, an NFL of high quality, so long as this country continues to have black ghettoes that yield plenty of athletes who survive the daily diet of gangs, gun fights, and drugs, enough at least to re-stock the NFL? (And so long as the Midwest continues to produce big fat white guys for the O-Line?) Will football wither as soon as the black neighborhoods get either substantially better or substantially worse? Will this discussion entitle me to a cup of Starbucks coffee?