That cheerleader’s spot

It’s football season! Woo-hoo!

But one tv football commentator and former player has quit his commentator gig.

[Ed] Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”

Football has seen high-profile N.F.L. players retire early, even pre-emptively, out of concern about their long-term health, with particular worry for the brain. But Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a related reason — because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the carnage, profiting from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants.

And killing them in a particularly nasty way.

As a color analyst, primarily providing commentary between plays, Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his pointed criticism toward what he thought were reckless hits and irresponsible coaching decisions that endangered the health of athletes. His strong opinions often got him denounced on fan message boards and earned him angry calls from coaches and administrators.

Because football is so much more important than some guy’s brain.

At first, Cunningham told ESPN executives that he was leaving to spend more time with his sons, ages 3 and 5, and because of his workload as a film and television producer. He was a producer for “Undefeated,” a documentary about an urban high school football team, and has a string of projects lined up.

“Those are two of the issues,” Cunningham said. He waited weeks before he revealed the third. “The big one was my ethical concerns.”

A football broadcaster leaving a job because of concerns over the game’s safety appears to have no precedent.

“I’ve been in the business 20 years and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anything like that,” Fitting said. “But this is the world we live in now. More and more players are stepping away in a given season or a given year, and who knows. Are there other announcers out there who have been afraid to do this? I don’t know. Is he going to be a pioneer in this small niche? I don’t know. Who knows what the future holds.”

I on the other hand find it pretty amazing that football just rolls on regardless, despite the growing evidence that it’s a very brain-trauma-prone sport.

If nothing else, Cunningham’s decision could prompt some self-examination among those who watch, promote, coach or otherwise participate in football without actually playing it.

Al Michaels, the veteran broadcaster who does play-by-play for NBC’s Sunday night N.F.L. broadcasts, said he did not see his role in the booth as an ethical dilemma.

“I don’t feel that my being part of covering the National Football League is perpetuating danger,” he said in a phone interview. “If it’s not me, somebody else is going to do this. There are too many good things about football, too many things I enjoy about it. I can understand maybe somebody feeling that way, but I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody else in my business who would make that decision.”

Yeah, that – that level of thoughtlessness surprises me. Yes, sure, let’s go on promoting football and cheering it on and advertising it and broadcasting it, so that more generations of players can end up with destroyed brains and slow miserable deaths.

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