From his perch hosting Thursday Night Football, veteran sportscaster Bob Costas has a unique perspective from which to diagnose the health of the NFL — and he says the future looks bleak.
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Costas, the longtime NBC broadcaster, said at the University of Maryland on Tuesday that the one-time “cash machine” sport was suffering after multiple investigations into former players who've experienced serious health issues, USA Today reported.
“The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains," Costas said. “Not everyone, but a substantial number. That’s the fundamental fact of football, and that to me is the biggest story in American sports.”
Costas was referring to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked with repeated head trauma that has become a concern for many athletes, but mostly those playing in the NFL. The disease can impact the brain’s frontal region which controls a person’s judgment, emotion, impulse, control, social behavior and memory.
In a July report, researchers studying the brains of 202 former football players discovered traces of CTE in nearly all of them, The Associated Press reported.
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Late New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez allegedly had advanced signs of CTE, his lawyer claimed. Hernandez was in jail serving time after a first-degree murder conviction when he hung himself in April. He was 27 years old at the time of his death.
“The cracks in the foundation are there,” Costas said. “The day-to-day issues, as serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.”
Costas appeared on the Maryland panel with USA Today’s Christine Brennan and ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, each of whom spoke about the future of professional football.
“It’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen in five years or ten years," Kornheiser said. "But Bob is right: At some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say, ‘I don’t want my kids to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out."
Costas said the NFL’s belated efforts to study the dangers of football will only hurt the league in the end.
“The more information [that] comes out, the worse it looks,” Costas said.
The sportscaster said he believed forthcoming data would only lead families to prevent their kids from playing until they were at least 18 years old. Or never allow them to play at all.
“But then where’s the talent pool for college? What happens to college football?” Costas said. “The whole thing could collapse like a house of cards if people actually begin connecting the dots.”
Kornheiser said football was on its way to being on the same level as boxing.
“Boxing doesn’t really exist anymore, except on pay-per-view, except every once in a while…Football is headed there,” Kornheiser said. “There is no question, football is headed for margins.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.