I don’t really like football anymore.
“What?!” you’re probably thinking. “This guy is crazy! Football is the heart and soul of America!”
I should clarify. Football is fun, and I like to watch it. But there are many things going on in the sport that are not so fun.
For one, fringe players don’t get enough respect. Let’s take a look at the case of Atlanta Falcon running back Tevin Coleman. The Illinois native was drafted by the team in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft and was seen as the future of the team’s backfield. Coleman won the starting job over Devonta Freeman in training camp but fractured his ribs just three games into the season. When he came back, he saw minimal playing time.
Much of that was due to the emergence of Freeman, who went on to rush for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns that season. Coleman had a solid start to his career — in his first two games, he rushed for 112 yards while scoring one touchdown — but only went on to rush for 392 yards by the end of the season because he was sent to the bench in favor of Freeman.
Ignoring a third-round pick with plenty of potential, the Falcons wasted much of the season hoping to recapture the magic of Freeman, who scored eight touchdowns in a four–week span, but scored just two times the rest of the season.
The culture of the NFL is so set on immediacy that players are given very little time to develop. And if they struggle at all once they earn playing time, their hopes of redemption are limited.
Coleman’s injury issues play into the larger concerns about injuries and brain damage surrounding the sport. While some players are worried about playing time, others have to be worried about their lives.
Former San Francisco 49er linebacker Chris Borland played just one season in the NFL and retired at 24 years old over concerns of developing brain damage from repeated head injuries. Borland was a star in the making, a player who could one day anchor the 49ers’ defense.
In a study released last October, 87 of 91 deceased NFL players who were at risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), donated their brains to science and tested positive for the disease.
Countless other stars have retired since Borland’s fateful decision. Detroit Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson retired at the age of 30 this year, and he was joined by a handful of other stars 30 or younger. The chance of developing CTE is a risk more and more players don’t want to take.
Many will argue that the NFL is at its peak, but if it doesn’t address its growing list of problems, its reputation could become beyond repair.