This article isn’t exactly intended to be an “I told you so” column. But, then again, I did tell you so.
Remember the piece I wrote a few months back about the demise of football? I believe the way I phrased it was “Football is the new boxing.” In fact, I’ve been saying for a few years now that it was only a matter of when, not if the American public would eventually turn their backs on the NFL. Well, we are now starting to see more and more proof of this being the beginning of a downward spiral for the National Football League and the sport as a whole.
It’s not that Americans aren’t still interested in the sport. After all, 114 million plus viewers tuned in to this year’s Super Bowl. We are still very much interested in watching the violence unfold. It’s just that athletes are starting to make the decision that it’s not worth it to subject their brains and bodies to the violence. In other words, what’s good for the goose may not necessarily be good for the gander—or something like that.
Two weeks ago Patrick Willis, standout linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, retired at the ripe young age of 30. While Willis has reportedly accrued over $40 million in career earnings, he was still at the peak of his earnings potential. Willis was due to make well over $8 million this coming season but instead walked away from professional football. The wear and tear of eight seasons in the league had simply taken its toll on his body.
The Willis case may not make the most compelling argument for the demise of the sport being that he does have millions in the bank and has secured his family’s future. I mean it’s not like we are seeing a trend of younger, less-experienced guys leaving millions on the table prior to having amassed a fortune…right? Then how about the Chris Borland bombshell?
Borland, a linebacker out of Wisconsin, announced his retirement. Only 24 years old, and with only one season under his belt in the NFL, Borland decided that the reward of millions of dollars wasn’t worth the health risks of playing the sport he loves. Borland, also a 49er, was set to replace Willis as a starter in San Francisco. Starting and producing at the age of 24, he was surely on the way to cashing in on a major free agent contract in a few years’ time. Instead, he opted to call it quits having only earned a little over $400,000 in his rookie season (he also received a signing bonus of $600,000, though San Francisco may be entitled to a partial refund).
Another linebacker, 27 year old Jason Worilds, retired a day later knowing that teams would be lining up to offer him a contract in the neighborhood of $7-$8 million. Then there’s the case of 26-year-old Jake Locker. Locker, who fizzed out as a starting QB with Tennessee was headed for a lucrative career as a backup that could have netted him $3-$4 million per year as evidenced by Mark Sanchez’ recent re-signing with Philadelphia.
So, add it all up and the sum equals a huge nightmare for the image of the NFL. The writing is all over the wall, in big bold letters. If 26-year-old men are opting to walk away from millions, then surely parents aren’t going to be running out to sign their kids up for the local recreational league. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. Parents and kids will eventually gravitate towards other sports and the NFL’s reign will come to an end. So go ahead and laugh at my prediction, but in 10 years, when soccer, baseball and basketball are all booming, don’t say I didn’t warn you.