The Sports Kid Column: NYU Could Save Football

Bobby Wagner

The football experiment in America is a flawed endeavor — one that is bound to fail sooner or later. In many ways, it has already started failing. You wouldn’t know it from the billions of dollars it rakes in annually, or the TV ratings of its most popular games. You certainly wouldn’t know it from the culture surrounding it in high schools and colleges across the country. But football as we know it will not exist in the coming decades.

Football is failing because its plan was, “We’re going to do nothing about the dozens of issues facing our sport, and we’re gonna stick to it!” It’s easy to not do anything when you’re making more money than you know what to do with. When the stock market crashed in 2008, it was because an unstable housing market finally lost its legs and caused millions of people to panic and pull their money out of stocks rapidly. That’s not that different from what’s happening in football right now, only it’s happening a lot slower because stocks can be manipulated in milliseconds, while people playing a sport have a significant amount of metaphorical inertia.

Today, more and more parents say they wouldn’t let their kids play football due to the violence, injuries and even death that can accompany the sport. NFL players are retiring at all-time young ages, on average. Sexual assault scandals, like the murky one that is still being unraveled in Baylor, have soured many from following the sport for fear of enabling the God-complex that allows student-athletes to feel like they can get away with the horrendous acts they commit. And domestic violence — an issue not confined to football but certainly more prevalent in it — has raised questions of whether or not there is a psychological correlation between being violent on the field and abusive off it.

That sure sounds a lot to me like people have started to take their stock out of football.

It’s pretty well-documented that NYU lacks a football team. At a school that’s as ambivalent about sports as NYU — often wrongfully making the department a punchline for our lack of school spirit — you should plan on getting struck by lightning twice on the night of a full moon while listening to a third Frank Ocean that features Drake singing about a long-lasting relationship before you plan on tailgating in Greenwich Village. But imagine, for a brief moment, that there were no monetary barriers to adding a football program or there were no issues with traveling far uptown to play. In that world, ironically, NYU is the perfect test tube beaker for a football experience that could be both successful in a traditional popularity sense and a more refined moral sense.

To have a diehard, authentic football experience at your school, you either need a “dream school” with a certain mystique — one where people imagine that miracles happen, that the ground students walk on is hallowed — or a down-south decades-long tradition of football. The dream school thing shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as, you know, it’s NYU. They’ve already nailed romanticizing New York City to a tee. It wouldn’t be tough to imagine translating that to the romantic idea of a football team of destiny, so to speak, the way that the Knicks have used NYC to translate the “Mecca of basketball” into a media machine that makes the franchise seem way more important than it actually is.

But because of that very same ambivalence and lack of sports tradition, the campus would lack the God-complex climate that allows so many of the dubious acts of athletes to go unpunished. The NYU campus doesn’t operate under the same norms that make athletes into celebrities, immune to morality and the law. And at a campus so well-versed in inclusivity and always looking to advance the dialogue surrounding marginalized groups, it’s hard to imagine students or faculty letting that culture arise.

If football has any chance of surviving, it has to reinvent itself. It needs to wash its hands of sexual assault and violence, the way baseball has (tried to) of performance enhancing drugs. And it needs to take an open and honest look into the world of concussions and head trauma. Since the NFL and its owners have proved themselves time and time again to be a money-grabbing group of narcissistic white billionaires that will fumble their way to billions of dollars while destroying everything in their path, the best bet for change is college. NYU is a credible research university with dozens of faculty and students ready to grapple with concussions and reverse alarming trends of lawlessness in the game. It, and universities like it, might be some of the only places that football has left to turn before it becomes extinct.

But first, let’s figure out how to erect a 100,000 person football stadium in Manhattan. That might piss some people off.

Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]

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