Why Football Will Go The Way Of Boxing
Your favorite quarterback might end up like Ali
On Saturday nights, growing up in Lagos Nigeria in the 80's/early 90's, we were allowed to stay up late and watch TV. We could watch whatever we wanted (within reason) and my brothers and I almost always picked Boxing (or maybe they watched what I picked as the oldest child…). We watched recent bouts; Sugar Ray Leonard rising through the weight categories, Don King searching for his next star, Tyson rising and falling, Chris Eubank going undefeated for ten years. We also watched the classics: Ali, Spinks, Duran, Monzon etc. And this was typical for almost all my friends.
And then we stopped watching. I’m not sure exactly when we stopped but the decline of professional boxing in our corner of the world was stark. One minute we knew all the stars, the upstarts, their coaches, their women, how much they made, the minutes during the bout when the knockout happened and we discussed bouts we believed were fixed until the next fight came on TV. And then we stopped caring.
I don’t know when we stopped but I do know why.
It was when we saw Ali. All of a sudden the man who could ‘fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee’ couldn’t. We didn’t care if it was due to boxing or not. It was just devastating to us. As we learned more about the damage boxing had done (and was doing) to boxers we found it wasn’t just Ali. And then maybe Joe Frazier had it too. Collectively, as boxing fans, we lost our love for the sport. It stopped being an innocent 30 minutes that did not damage the lives of the pugilists. Boxing became a fringe sport (to us and apparently to the world). And with the move to the fringe we found out the men who were still willing to sacrifice their lives/brains made even more money doing so.
Sound familiar? The adoration for the ‘gladiators’ and how manly they are, their women, the stats, the ‘interesting’ calls in games, the rumblings about brain damage? Yes, I’m now talking about football. That sport that has a viewership of 108 million people on it’s biggest night. It seems unfeasible now that Football (the American kind) will ever wane in popularity. Football is woven into the fabric of America. But that once tightly woven fabric is fraying. The NFL paid ex-players a ~$700M settlement, ex-player suicides are getting more news coverage, on a recent ‘Real Sports With Bryant Gumble’ it was noted that sales of little league gear for Football is starting to drop and there is the PBS documentary that questions what the NFL knows/knew about brain damage from the sport.
It’s all a harbinger of things to come for the sport. Football will move to the fringe. The boys/men who still see it as a way to make a lot of money will still sacrifice their bodies/lives. And the fans who choose to ignore the damage being done to those boys/men will watch and be culprits in an inhumane activity that enriches people who sit in their box seats (just like the Roman emperors did) watching gladiators fight to their (slow but accelerated) death.