Will football someday become the worldâ€™s first virtual professional sport?
With the NFLâ€™s preseason underway, high school and college players back on the practice fields, and tens of thousands of fantasy leagues conducting their annual drafts, letâ€™s put the question another way:
Which will happen first: the collapse of the NFL due to a shortage of players willing to risk injury? Or the development of computer-based football so compelling and unpredictable that it actually replaces the pro game loved by millions of fans?
For now, both scenarios seem far fetched - but somethingâ€™s gotta give. Football is being jolted as never before by both scientific and anecdotal evidence about the effects of repeated blows to the head.
What could the long-term future possibly be for a sport in which, for example, 40 former pros conduct a charity golf tournament (in California this summer) to raise money for research on traumatic brain injuries? For a game in which more than 2,000 women turn to a Facebook page devoted to the health consequences faced by their loved ones employed as pro players?
The Federation of State High School Associations tabulates that participation in football has fallen for the fourth straight year - with the latest seasonal drop totaling roughly 26,000 players. If the pipeline of human pro players eventually dries up, perhaps replacements will emerge from computer labs.
In fact, pro football has been inching toward â€śvirtualâ€ť status for over three decades. The crude computer efforts of the early 1980â€™s, developed by companies such as Nintendo, have evolved into modern, high-definition versions so life-like that they are played by many NFL pros in their spare time.
The NFL has enthusiastically supported this - in large part because of the license fees, but also, I believe, with an eye toward the future. The league also backs fantasy football, which continues to grow in popularity as more and more fans create and manage their own teams in computer-based leagues.
The problem, of course, is that computer games and fantasy leagues depend, at least for now, on real players and real on-field results. But that might someday change. ...
Personally, Iâ€™m finding it increasingly difficult to rationalize my passion for a sport that is so clearly proving to cause lifelong suffering for its participants. Iâ€™m tired of all the dirty looks from my wife as she wonders why I so stubbornly support this game.
Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, â€śCautiously Optimistic,â€ť is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. Â© 2017 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.