Ed Cunningham resigned from his role as a college football analyst for ESPN due to concerns about the negative health impacts the game has on those who play it, he told the New York Times. Cunningham, who joined the network in 2000 after winning the Rose Bowl with Washington and spending four years in the NFL as an offensive lineman, spoke candidly about what prompted his decision.
“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”
“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham said. “But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”
Regardless of your alignment or opposition with Cunningham’s principled stand, his decision to walk away from a job and game he’s known for the entirety of his adult life is significant.
Much has been made about the spate of players retiring early. Will Cunningham’s departure spark similar defections from members of the media who cover football? His longtime partner, Mike Patrick, isn’t there yet, but told the Times he’s similarly re-evaluating his relationship with the game.
I could hardly disagree with anything he said,” Patrick, who will have a new broadcast partner this season in Cunningham’s absence, said in a phone interview. “The sport is at a crossroads. I love football — college football, pro football, any kind of football. It’s a wonderful sport. But now that I realize what it can do to people, that it can turn 40-, 50-year-old men into walking vegetables, how do you stay silent? Ed was in the vanguard of this. I give him all the credit in the world. And I’m going to be outspoken on it, in part because he led me to that drinking hole.”
My gut feeling is that Cunningham will likely be alone in his trek away from the broadcasting booth. It doesn’t feel like the sport is quite at the point where conscientious objectors feel strongly enough to lead a rebellion away from the country’s most popular sport.
With more time, science, and heartbreaking stories featuring former players, that could change.