Lem Barney, a Hall of Fame cornerback, is convinced football, especially at the professional level, has become so big, strong, fast and violent that it will fade into oblivion over the next twenty years.
"People often ask me do I miss the game, do I wish I could still play with all the money they’re making today. Even with all of that, I’d say ‘Heck no,'" Barney said at a football camp earlier today, via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "The game is becoming more deadly today. It’s a great game, and I think it’s the greatest game if you like gladiators. It’s the greatest game for yesteryear’s gladiators."
"But in the next 10 to 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether because of how strong it’s becoming, how big it’s becoming and the tenacity that it already is. And it’s only going to get worse."
To say the least, football has experienced a great deal of increased injury awareness, especially in the head and neck region, over the past decade. There are a number of ideas to improve the safety of the game while maintaining the spirit of American football, but there's also a consensus opinion that no league, even the NFL, is too big to fall. Still, don't count on the NFL going anywhere soon.
Although it is completely possible the NFL could eventually fail under the weight of safety concerns and lawsuits, it's far more likely that the game will continue to undergo a drastic change. There have, for instance, been ideas floated around that would eliminate the need for a kickoff and replacing the onside kick. While they've been dismissed for now, those ideas may yet surface again.
Some have suggested that defenders be allowed more freedom to get physical with receivers before a pass is actually thrown. The idea there is defenders would be better able to slow receivers down, creating less giant hits at the moment of reception.
Right now, there's no silver bullet for eliminating serious injuries in any sport, especially one as violent as football. Still, Roger Goodell has been very proactive in making changes, as have the owners over the past ten years. We can expect that to continue. The owners won't sit quietly by as lawsuits tear the league apart. They're already working on solutions, and they'll continue to make the game safer, even if that compromises what some think "real" football is today.