Back on August 1st, when ESPN announced its 2017 college football television announcing team, the astute college football diehard noticed there was no Ed Cunningham listed next to Mike Patrick.
Cunningham had been an ESPN college football color analyst for the past 20 seasons.
Wednesday John Branch of the New York Times revealed the reason for Cunningham’s departure.
“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham told the Times.
“But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”
Numerous football players have dropped out of the game from the high school level all the way up to the pro level for just the same reason, but Cunningham maybe the first to do so from the perch of broadcaster.
Cunningham leaves a $100k plus salary on the table for what he calls “my ethical concerns”.
Cunningham lamented the toll the game has already taken on players from years past, “I don’t currently think the game is safe for the brain. And, oh, by the way, I’ve had teammates who have killed themselves. Dave Duerson put a shotgun to his chest so we could study his brain” Cunningham told the Times.
The former NFL lineman is perhaps the most prominent person to have walked away from the game among a group of men and women who make their livelihood directly off the game on the field. A game which decidedly has caused so much concern for player safety and with its direct impact to the head, most believe is linked to a condition we now know as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
There’s concern not just for former NFL players, but recently its thought that even those who played at the high school level can be affected long-term.
Journalists, bloggers, some former football fans have all decried the sport as not worth the entertainment value.
Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune wrote today a column titled: “I don’t think I can watch football anymore.”
Chapman cites a study which recently made headlines concerning CTE:
“a study of brains taken from deceased players conducted by Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University. Of 202 brains she examined, 177 showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Of the 111 from NFL players, 110 were diseased. CTE is a progressive, fatal condition that can cause memory loss, depression, psychosis and dementia.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to that study by stating that the average NFL player lives longer than those who have never played a down in the league. Of course that would be about 7.5 billion people who have never suffered impact directly to the head on a football field.
“The average NFL player lives five years longer than you,” Goodell said. “So their lifespan is actually longer and healthier. And I think because of all the advancements, including the medical care, that number is going to even increase for them.”
“I think the one thing everyone agrees on is there’s an awful lot more questions than there are answers at this point,” Goodell said.
The player safety issue is now front and center up against a sports and cultural institution called football with tens of thousands of willing participants, and billions of dollars in revenue. Where those two points collide, if they ever do, remains to be seen.