The Los Angeles Chargers
On the same exact day that the San Diego Chargers announced that they are moving to Los Angeles, former L.A. Raider great Bo Jackson said he would never have played football had he known about the dangers of CTE. Believe it or not, the two items are related and I’m going to briefly outline why below.
First of all, let me say I like Bo Jackson. I don’t know him personally, but I admired his skills, I like his personality, and I like the way he carries himself. He was the definitive athlete of his generation, but to say he wouldn’t have played football if he had known the dangers of CTE is disingenuous. I remember being a kid and listening to former Baltimore Colt Art Donovan talk about his plethora of injuries and even I knew there was a cost to play in the NFL. Maybe not CTE specifically, but Dementia Pugilistica for sure, which was theorized in the 1920’s and was common knowledge by the 1970’s.
Speaking of boxing, between the first and second world wars, boxing was arguably the most popular sport in America. As soon as it became the most popular sport in America, there was an undercurrent of critics who called it barbaric and called for its ban. As boxing advanced into the 1970’s, corruption eroded the support of the sport at the professional level and youth development dried up almost entirely. I’m going to ask you, the reader, in the year 2017, would you sign your 12 year old son up for boxing lessons? That’s what I thought.
But anyhow, what was THE sport is now a niche, at best, sport. And that’s where we are today with the NFL. The NFL is at its peak, but now with the specific diagnosis of CTE, youth participation is slowly starting to dry up. Lacrosse, soccer, and baseball, all have increasing numbers:
Participation in High School in Thousands (Boys)
2009 – 2014 (5 Year Trend)
472 – 487 (+ 15,000)
540 – 541 (+1,000)
1,109 – 1,084 (-25,000)
90 - 108 (+18,000)
391 – 432 (+40,000)
What people don’t understand is now that CTE is a fact, all it takes is one lawsuit in this litigious society for the dominoes to start falling the wrong way for football. I can predict the future. A high school football player will kill himself one day, the doctor will diagnose CTE post-mortum, then the bereaved parents will sue the High School and win. All of a sudden, football will be the scourge of the suburbs and Superintendents across the fruited plain will drop football for fear of litigation. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon (probably around 2020). Schools in Texas will never ban football, but within a generation I could see places like California and New York banning tackle football for those under 18.
Now once the erosion of talent is in place, popularity will ebb. Not overnight, but in tiny chunks. Give you a specific example, you say? Okay, just this week, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens came out and said no to more public funding for Sports Stadiums. Now part of it was a publicity stunt, he was talking about not using money for MLS (nice job drawing a line in the sand…for expansion soccer), but Missouri had just lost the Rams to L.A. because the city and state wouldn’t play ball with world class a$$hole Stan Kroenke. So you might counter that the NFL is better than ever, look Los Angeles is building a $2 Billion Football Shrine for the Rams and the Chargers but you’ve also pissed off millions of your loyal fans by ripping their teams from St. Louis and San Diego. You notice fans of Los Angeles football are not rejoicing, they already have the Rams. How many people, truly, are celebrating the second L.A. football team?
So again, these things don’t happen overnight, but I’m telling you, the hourglass has been set and as the grains of sand trickle through the waist, let me sum up the Los Angeles Chargers the second week of January, 2017. On the day the Chargers announced their move, summarily alienating fans, arguably the greatest player in Los Angeles Football History said he would NEVER let his kids play football. How’s that for a public relations coup for the NFL?