Wednesday's HOT MIC
A longtime ESPN football analyst is walking away because he says that football isn't "safe for the brain."
But Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.
“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”
Football has seen high-profile N.F.L. players retire early, even pre-emptively, out of concern about their long-term health, with particular worry for the brain. But Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a related reason — because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the carnage, profiting from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants.
“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham said. “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.”
Cunningham says he has shown none of the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE -- the brain disease that has caused several former players to kill themselves or die a horrible death. Cunningham mentions a former teammate, Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson:
I’ve had teammates who have killed themselves. Dave Duerson put a shotgun to his chest so we could study his brain…
“This is as personal as it gets,” Cunningham said. “I’m not hypothesizing here.”
Football, boxing, soccer, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse -- all players who participate in these sports are at risk for serious brain injury later in life. How many players develop CTE? No one knows. How many concussions can the human brain withstand before injury is permanent? No one knows.
And yet...how many times have we heard a pro football player say that even with all of his aches and pains -- the artificial knees and hips, the constant pain making it nearly impossible to sleep - he wouldn't change a thing and that if he had a chance, he'd go back and do it all over again?
But that attitude may be changing. A couple of dozen of high-profile players have retired while still in their mid-20s because of concussions and other injuries. The untold story is that thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- of high school and college players will also develop CTE.
It makes you wonder if tackle football as a competitive sport will be around in 10 years.