Leaving the announcer’s booth: one analyst’s unusual but justified reason for quitting

A recent Daily Wire story details the somewhat sudden resignation of ABC/ESPN commentator Ed Cunningham. In essence, it became a question of ethics and conscience, quoting him as quoted in the article:

I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport. I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot. In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear. But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.

I can understand Ed’s decision. I have, in recent years, questioned whether or not I should remain an NFL fan in light of what we are finding out regarding the injuries to players, brain injuries in particular. It could be said that Ed making this decision a high-profile decision, and not simply retiring quietly, is a way of raising awareness about injuries in football, in particular chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). For that, he should be commended.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that the same people who will criticize the hell out of Ed’s decision to quit announcing football games in light of injury risks will also criticize NFL players for asking for what they feel are ridiculous salaries. The reality is that most NFL careers are short: the average NFL career is just under 7 years (6.86 years to be exact per this Houston Chronicle article). Contrast this with most white-collar or even blue-collar careers which usually last an entire lifetime (for the sake of argument, we’ll call it an average of 35 years) and have much lower injury risk. There is also the unknown of a future career-ending injury particularly for NFL players, and it could be said the high salaries cover that risk as well as the first few years after the end of a given player’s NFL career. Of course, some players do last well over a decade, particularly at positions like quarterback, kicker, and punter which have specific protections written into them in the game rules.

It’s easy to watch a football game and just lose oneself in the action until a player gets hurt. It’s even easier to forget the injury risks from playing football become occupational hazards for players at the professional level. I’ve written about college football in the past–and it was college football games for which Ed Cunningham was a color commentator for ABC and ESPN

College players, in general, are particularly vulnerable. Their younger age is a factor, of course, but it’s also due to the fact they make tons of money for their respective schools, none of which they can ever see a penny of outside of a scholarship thanks to the crazy rules the NCAA has come up with to classify these de facto professional players as amateur athletes. The term “student-athlete”, which the NCAA invented and still loves to use, is interpreted by many as an implication that studies come first–and that’s not at all where it comes from, as I have written about previously.

Here’s hoping Ed’s conscience is a bit clearer and that he continues to prosper in his other efforts. And, yes, there are other efforts; this is the same Ed Cunningham who was one of the co-producers of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a film about the world record high score on the arcade version of Donkey Kong. I have yet to see this film, though I was a bit more active in the video arcade gaming scene around the time of (and thus heard about) the death of Doris Self, who is featured in this film.

Too radical of a concept? Professional football for college kids

In case you missed it, USA Today recently reported on a new football league, designed for developing players less than four years removed from high school who are currently ineligible to compete in the NFL. The Pacific Pro Football League offers experience in a professional football league while not interfering with college for those who still want to go to college. Key quotes from the article:

The plan: Four teams based in Southern California, each playing an eight-game schedule on Sundays during the sports dead zone of July and August. Roughly 50 players per team making an average salary and benefits package of $50,000 a year, which they’d be free to supplement with endorsements. Rules tweaked to enhance safety and give NFL scouts matchups they want to see. Coaches with NFL experience, who would teach pro-style schemes in an immersive environment unbound by rules regarding classroom time. Any player four years or fewer removed from high school would be eligible, including college underclassmen who’d entered the NFL draft.


If players want to attend school, the summer schedule wouldn’t interfere and there’d be an option to receive one year’s tuition and books at a community college. Training would continue year-round on a similar calendar to that used in the NFL. There also would be development opportunities for coaches and officials, who could come from a program started for military veterans by another advisory board member, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira.


There are no plans to have traditional roster cuts, Yee said, but for some, taking the new option would mean giving up another. Any player signing a Pac Pro contract would forfeit NCAA eligibility, so the decision would need to be well-informed.

I have been a vocal but infrequent critic of the NCAA, particularly in how they handle football. I wrote a post critical of the NCAA back in 2013 April, in particular its use of the term “student-athlete” and how it came to be. I’m not going to rehash all of that here, but there does need to be at least one viable alternative to NCAA football for developing players in the 18 to 22 age bracket.

I don’t know if Pac Pro (as it’s apparently going to be referred to in short) will be the answer. But it’s encouraging to see this type of alternative being proposed. As far as I know, in the era of widespread college football, we have never had a professional league specifically designed to bridge the gap between high school football and the NFL. I certainly hope this takes off, and grows big enough to take a huge chunk out of the billion-dollar-plus college football industry.

And I do say “industry” on purpose. It shouldn’t be an industry. The college players are essentially unpaid professionals–or at best, paid only in scholarships. The idea that these kids can bring in so much money for their schools, and not only get barely any of it (a scholarship, if that) in order to retain their eligibility and “amateur” status–it’s crazy, and it turns common sense on its head.

On the NFL, the Super Bowl, and living in the host city

So, this is the second time now that Houston has hosted the Super Bowl at the same stadium (originally Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium). Yes, Houston did host Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium back in 1974, but this was before my time.

I have been a football fan pretty much my entire life. During the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 when Houston did not have an NFL franchise, that changed a bit. For a while I even followed Arena Football, which unfortunately hasn’t remained popular, with the current incarnation having contracted to a mere five teams down from a one-time high of 19.

That said, once my favorite teams (Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks) get eliminated from the playoffs, I usually quit caring about football for the year and will often either tune out of the Super Bowl or watch only part of it. This year I’m watching from home, mainly because it’s being played here in town. However, next year, unless the Texans or Seahawks are playing in it, I may not watch, for a variety of reasons.

One good thing about having the city you live in host the Super Bowl is a lot of things get fixed and cleaned up that otherwise nobody would really care about. Trash gets picked up off the streets, businesses clean up their exterior and possibly even fix burned-out bulbs in their signage, major streets get repainted months ahead of schedule, burned out streetlights get fixed. This year, it also appears the Super Bowl was the impetus for the completion of the Green Line overpass connecting the final two stations (Cezar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park Transit Center).

Of course there is a flip side to this too where laws are used in unintended ways. While I haven’t heard much about the city (particularly the police department) mistreating the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl, I’m sure it has happened. It’s implausible that the Super Bowl coming up in less than two months and HPD deciding to enforce the homeless feeding ban more aggressively than usual was just a mere coincidence.

While we do get an economic influx, there’s also the extra traffic from everybody coming to town for the game and/or other related festivities. On a personal note, this was part of the reason I cancelled my planned attendance of the 2600 meeting at The Galleria on Friday; it was questionable if I would have attended even if potentially thicker-than-usual crowds were not a factor. I was at The Galleria on Wednesday, and the crowds weren’t terrible then, but who knows how bad it was on Friday night? (If you were there, feel free to comment.) Also, I see many friends on Facebook who can’t wait for the city to “get back to normal.” I don’t blame them.

I don’t mean to throw rain on your parade if you’re a diehard football fan and only care that it’s the NFL and there’s 11 guys on each side of the ball running into each other in the closest thing the USA has to ancient Roman gladiatorial combat. If you enjoy the game no matter who’s playing, that’s great. But some don’t, and some like myself lose interest if the teams are unfamiliar. And honestly, normal life can be chaotic enough without a wildly popular football game and the associated crowds coming to town.

On professional sports: what many fans forget, ignore, or don’t know

This goes back to a spur-of-the-moment tweet I made yesterday. I still stand behind what I wrote even though some people almost certainly got the wrong idea:

And for the record… I really, truly, could not care less who wins the Super Bowl. I just hope none of the players get hurt.

A lot of people forget things about professional sports. When an athlete wants a salary that most average people deem inflated if not outright obscene, it’s easy to forget a lot of the cold, hard, unpleasant realities of professional sports.

The first of those is that for the players at the professional level, playing the game is their day job. Not only is it their day job, particularly in the cases of football, hockey, and motorsports, it is one of the most dangerous jobs in existence. And I’ll probably get flamed for this, but I assert that professional athletics is at least somewhat on par with law enforcement for danger level; it’s difficult to be completely objective on things like this, but my educated guess says that most football players have less than half the working hours per year of most beat cops. In particular, the sheer quantity of police officers with 10+ year careers compared to the relative rarity of NFL players with the same tenure pretty much speaks for itself. I would go as far as to suggest most cops who change careers inside of a decade do so willingly as opposed to being forced to do so from injuries. The NFLPA FAQ for those considering becoming an NFL player is rather clear:

The average length of an NFL career is about 3 and a half seasons. Although there are some exceptional players who have long careers that extend 10 or twelve seasons and beyond, most players only stay active for about three seasons. Players leave the game because of injury, self-induced retirement, or being cut by the team. This also means that while players may make more money than most people, they are only making it for an average of three and a half years. To make sure they are successful in the future, players must invest their money well and make plans for another career when they can no longer play football.

I invite comments from anyone with insight from the law enforcement community, or for that matter any other similarly dangerous career.

The second of these is that when rule changes are made to promote safety, that means for the players, this is a workplace safety issue. Without the players, there’s nothing for the fans to watch. I’m not saying the fans should be completely ignored, but there is no game without the players. The so-called “armchair quarterbacks” are quick to call the players all kinds of derogatory names like “sissies afraid to get hurt” when a league makes a safety-related rule change. Most professional sports fall outside the jurisdiction of OSHA; the players’ union and the league are all the players really have as far as who is looking out for their interests. (And in some cases, the leagues eagerly turn a blind eye until the union makes enough noise.)

Another is the perception that most athletes are millionaires. The NFLPA FAQ linked above refutes this:

Despite what most people think, not all NFL players are millionaires! For example in 2000, the minimum salary for rookies was $193,000. While the highest paid players in the league can make $7-8 million per year, most players make much less than that. … This year, the average NFL salary was $1.1 million.

Note that this is the average, meaning there are a significant number of players who make less than this.

I would go as far as to say an NFL player making the minimum salary, who suddenly finds himself playing for an entire quarter of every game from, say, the fourth week on, is probably not being adequately compensated for the risk he is undertaking! (To be fair about it the same could certainly be said of many police and fire personnel as well.)

(Quick aside: the average is different from the median; the former is the sum divided by the count, while the latter is the number of which half the numbers in the set are either above or below. I suspect the small number of multi-million-dollar salaries inflate this average to be much higer than the median, but would need to find the numbers to actually back it up. I believe the median to be a much more useful statistic which would probably go much further towards proving my point in this case.)

Finally, the career of most professional athletes, save for certain sports such as bowling or golf, is short enough as it is, without the ever-present possibility of career-threatening or career-ending injuries. As mentioned previously, especially in the case of professional team sports, there is the possibility of being cut (or, as the rest of us know it, getting fired) by the team. The reasons for an athlete being out of work are sometimes just as arbitrary as some of the layoffs and firings that happen in the corporate world.

So when I say things like that, there’s a reason for it. I do feel the New Orleans Saints played a great game and congratulate the team and its fans on the victory; while I did not really root for the Saints, I am capable of admiring well-played football by any team.

Today’s a great day for sports fans, all sports fans, to pause and give the proper credit to the players that make each sport what it is. Without the players, there would be no game to watch.