Steelers receiver Sammie Coates loses the football and faces an impending blow from a Detroit defender.
By Ruth Ann Dailey
Sunday afternoons used to be something of an event for me. I’d curl up on the sofa with three of my favorite pastimes — the New York Times crossword puzzle, bowls of salty snacks and a Steelers game.
The television would be on, but muted, so I could listen to our local announcers on the radio — Myron Cope, Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin. It was a new twist on a childhood habit.
My father liked to relax Sunday afternoons by turning on the game (or golf tournament) of the day. We always watched the Kansas City Chiefs, our hometown team, but Dad was a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers and the Steelers, too. It was easy to throw myself behind a new “hometown” team when I moved to Pittsburgh in the early ’90s.
I was also new to talk radio, and though I was too clueless to realize it at the time, it was one of the true treats of my life to meet the late great Myron Cope. He was still doing an evening sports show on WTAE-AM, and whenever I arrived to sub for the night-shift host, I would encounter him just wrapping up.
There would always be a big mound of 3-by-5 cards in the trash can next to the sound booth desk, all filled with his detailed research. I asked Mr. Cope about the cards once and learned he threw them away before his show started. Lesson: Do your homework first, then have fun on air.
Despite my years of loyal viewing, you could fit everything I know about football onto just one of Myron Cope’s cards. And despite my sentimental attachments to the sport, the bond hasn’t held. I rarely see a game any more.
The National Football League can’t afford to lose many more viewers like me. The national trends are worrisome, and medical and legal news can’t help. Given the very nature of the sport, I don’t see how the fan base can grow.
A scant year ago, everyone was buzzing about “Concussion,” the Will Smith-Alec Baldwin movie that recounts the discovery here in Pittsburgh of the terrible price football players pay for the recurring brain injuries many suffer on the field. But word of the problem had been spreading for years, with youth participation in decline since 2009.
Hard on the heels of the 2016 political primaries and conventions, NFL viewership was down double digits in last season’s first few weeks. It recovered somewhat after the November election — and, critics point out, viewership of all real-time television programming is down.
But the past few days have also brought more bad news. The Washington Post revealed details of a lawsuit, brought by 1,800-plus former players, alleging that NFL teams ignored federal drug laws and prescribed their players large amounts of addictive painkillers and other drugs.
Do the concussions and drug abuse surprise anyone? I admit I’m very squeamish, but I can’t be the only American who would watch and wince.
If I didn’t know football evolved in the late 1800s, I’d have guessed it was modeled on World War I’s trench warfare, where millions of men perished in grueling contests to gain mere yards of muddy ground.
Today, it is thousands of football players sacrificing their bodies and brains for our entertainment. Most are not stars, most do not earn extraordinary paychecks, most play no more than a few seasons. But they may pay, apparently, for the rest of their lives.
It’s one thing for bodies to occasionally collide in soccer, basketball or baseball, as a byproduct of the sport’s primary action. Colliding bodies are absolutely essential to football, and as the years go by and research unfolds, it makes less and less sense.
I’m not making a moral judgment here. Simply put, football makes me uncomfortable. Like a growing number of parents, if my kids were school-age today, I would not let them play. And, alas, today’s little players are tomorrow’s big fans.
Within this swirl of protective parenting, TV viewing trends and health alerts, the Steelers are seeking improvements to Heinz Field. The stadium authority has balked.
The powers that be are wrangling over who’ll pay for what — and, of course, talking about new ways to pay for enhancements to a stadium that’s already 16 years old. Three Rivers Stadium was imploded at 30.
I don’t blame the Steelers for striking while the iron is still fairly warm. After all, entertainments come and go. Two months ago, the Ringling Brothers circus announced its closing, a relic of history recognizing changing reality. How can a sport have a glorious future if its players don’t?
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.