Saturday, May 20, 2017
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
After taking a brief hiatus, I’m back - or at least some damaged version is – from a self-imposed exile from society at-large, D.C. sports in general and the eternally-hexed Washington Capitals, specifically. The Darkness, the evil force undeniably enveloping D.C.’s professional teams, overwhelmed me.
How acute was my sports-affective disorder? After the inexplicable, inexcusable and completely illogical Game 4 loss to the Penguins, I was Caps-fan-on-fire: screaming like a 1980’s hair metal concert goer and using language that wouldn’t make my momma proud.
The aftermath was unprecedented: I abandoned the Caps. With the misery needle buried in the red, I did not watch games 5-7. First time in my life I’ve ever done such a thing. I’d seen this Caps script too many times and was in no place to willfully subject myself to the anguish. This annual torment is the Caps’ Rite of Spring, if you will, a play on the haunting/doomsday’s approaching masterpiece by…wait for it…Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Game 4 broke me. I couldn’t even write; a condition critical that forced Duke Radbourn to pen the last column while I recovered.
But enough of that. Here we are, together again, in this fabulous moment to discuss something of substance or at least bizarre, like the death of major sports league.
The buried lede: The NFL won’t live to see Super Bowl C (100) in 2066, not in its current form. The now undeniable consequences on the human body and, more importantly, the human brain are too great.
Countless former NFL players are suffering from early on-set dementia, a diagnosis that is often posthumously changed to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Confusion. Mood swings. Child-like behavior. Forgetfulness. Depression. Suicide. These are the symptoms. Two more names were added to the NFL’s victim list last week: Nick Buoniconti and Jim Kiick, teammates on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. Many, many more will follow.
But this generation has something the priors didn’t: knowledge of football’s risks. That knowledge will curb the NFL’s talent supply, either through increased early retirements or young athletes opting for other sports. It will also pull the league’s purse strings as sponsors disassociate their brand from a debilitating sport.
What does the future hold for America’s sport?
Tom Brady, pending Madden cover boy, might have teased the answer recently. When playing the game with his son, Brady disclosed that he chooses either Green Bay or Seattle. New England? Not an option. His son makes that claim.
Virtual football. Is that where we’re headed? Is virtual reality the solution for the NFL?
Crazy talk? Sure. I’ve been a little bleary-eyed recently. I’ve flirted with the dark corners of my brain. But if you think the NFL will just keep marching along, as is, with the same corporate sponsors and the same supply line snaking back through colleges, high schools and pee wee football, you aren’t paying attention to what professional football is doing to its participants.
Think of these scenarios: a fully virtual league or one where players are robots, controlled remotely by humans. In the former the “players” are programmed with attributes – size, speed, etc. – with complex coding/simulation determining the outcome. In the latter, all robots are physically identical with the game decided by the skill of gamers. Or something like that. You get the idea.
No more concussions. No more injuries. Player personalities could be cultivated like WWE stars. Gridiron superheroes. And ponder the potential revenue growth with the sport now globally viable and freed of human body-imposed game limits.
But would we watch?
Of course we would. This is 2066, mind you. When considering the technological advances of the last 50 years, is 2066 even sufficiently imaginable to mount a counter-argument? And do you doubt future generations will lack the bloodthirst that makes football so appealing?
Besides, look at us now. Concocted Facebook lives. On-line dating. Reality television (which is often anything but). Virtual reality is everywhere – and it’s getting scary-good. Facts are routinely skewed. Fiction thrives, even in the most important facets of American life. If the story’s compelling, we’ll buy a ticket and take the ride without hardly a question asked.