If you are to believe all of the hubbub on sports talk radio and the 24-hour news channels yesterday, the retirement of former Badger and 49ers linebacker Chris Borland has NFL owners quaking in their shoes worried about the future of their sport. All of the talking heads believe Borland's decision to stop playing football out of concern for suffering brain damage is a "game changer" that "doesn't bode well for the future of the league".
Well I'll tell you that the NFL has ZERO worries about Chris Borland stepping away from the game. You know why? Because about a month from now, all of those league and team officials will be in Chicago taking their pick from the hundreds of guys who would be more than happy to replace Chris Borland on the field at the NFL Draft. Chris Borland has a degree from a world-class university and can return to his hometown of Kettering, Ohio to sell insurance or investments or real estate and have a pretty comfortable life without football. But how many African-Americans from the streets of Miami or Houston or Los Angeles do think can just walk away from the possibility of millions in the NFL and have that same kind of life? If THOSE guys start saying "it ain't worth it, man", then the NFL might be a little bit worried.
And when universities decide that they aren't going to continue to operate as free "minor league farm teams" for the NFL--churning out brain-damaged potential draft picks who have made a mockery of higher education ideals (I'm talking to you everyone in the SEC and THE Ohio State University) then the NFL might get worried. Of course, what University President is going to give back all of that cash coming in from the Big Ten Network, or the SEC Network or the Pac-12 Network or the College Football Playoff?
And when high schools in Texas stop winning referenda allowing them to build multi-MILLION dollar football stadiums and training facilities--the NFL might get a little bit worried. Or when the coaches on Friday Night Tykes all decide to go with flag football rules--or worse yet, soccer--for their kids instead of full-contact practices--then the NFL might start getting worried.
And when people stop lining up for weeks in order to be the first to buy the latest edition of the Madden NFL video game--the NFL might get a little bit worried. Or when there aren't 15 fantasy football guides on the newsstand every summer, and there aren't 15-million fantasy football websites and when ESPN no longer dedicates entire hours of programming to picking your fantasy football team and when studies show that people aren't wasting 10-hours a week at work talking about or doing on-line research for their fantasy football teams--the NFL might start getting worried.
But here is when the NFL will get worried: When NFL football isn't the top-rated program on TV every week of the season. When games, pre-game shows and post-game shows don't make up six of the top ten rated programs all season long. When the Super Bowl doesn't generate record ratings every year. When cable providers no longer pay a premium to carry NFL Network (out of fear of an avalanche of customer feedback demanding to see Thursday night games, and the combine) or all of the ESPN networks with their fanatical devotion to everything NFL all year 'round. When four networks are no longer willing to give the league BILLIONS of dollars every year to televise the games. When Visa no longer pays to be the "official card of the NFL" and Coca-Cola no longer wants to be the "official refreshment" and Subaru doesn't want to be the "official Crossover vehicle" THEN--and ONLY then--will the NFL start to "worry" about players deciding not to play out of concern for long-term brain damage.