With the apparent suicide of NFL great Junior Seau, who played 20 years in the world's most violently glamorous sport, American football is dying.
It's about time. The nationally televised gambling and meat-rendering factory cannot survive without new players.
And the parents of future players are asking themselves this: Is football worth it for my child?
We're just days after Seau's apparent suicide, so we don't know the reason. But his death followed the suicides of proud and strong-willed men like Chicago Bears great Dave Duerson and others after they suffered head trauma and struggled with long-term problems such as dementia and depression.
I loved to watch Duerson play. I remember how we'd cheer and bark like dogs when he'd put the hat on somebody and lay them out. And then I look at that photo — the one that's most often reprinted, the one after he retired, his eyes not completely focused, the look of fear on his face as if he were lost — and I feel sick.
I loved football. I played it in high school and my brothers played it and my uncles and cousins. Our Uncle Nick died in the Canadian League from a head injury, and still we played.
Another cousin played 12 years in the NFL and is the wittiest guy I know. But that Duerson photo haunts me, and I've heard from others out there who feel sick and guilty too.
And still kids are signed up to play a game designed to punish the human body, and the brain.
So why not make it simple and just give the kids packs of cigarettes instead?
Or you might encourage them to beat their brains out as prizefighters. Fight promoters, like NFL teams, are always looking for fresh beef. Imagine cheering for your son in the ring as he dodges left hooks and throws that counter right, crunching the other fighter's temple.
Isn't that what we cheer when there's a big hit on NFL Sundays? And are we not entertained?
At least prizefighting isn't sold as apple pie and the American way. Prizefighting is about violent men wanting to get paid, and some would do it for free, even if it were illegal, just to find out who's the toughest.
They'd gather on empty factory floors or in alleys, just to see, just to watch, just as men would still play football for free.
If you don't know this, then you don't understand the human animal. But this isn't anthropology.
We're discussing football as a business at a crossroads.
America now knows about head injuries, and the headhunter bounties issued in New Orleans, and all those splendid athletes torn up each week, their bodies ruined.
We understand it even as we watch, fat guys on couches staring at those big flat-screen TVs, drinking beer and eating fatty sandwiches and wings, our guts protruding while we debate which players are gutless, just as we've been taught by some of the screamers on sports talk radio.
Are sports journalists aware of the conflict? Of course they're aware of it. And the best sportswriters, folks I respect and read and listen to on the radio every day, periodically talk about how to save the game.
But can football be saved if parents prevent their sons from playing?
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.