The New Yorker wades into the debate over concussions this week, wondering, “Does Football Have a Future?” The magazine reminds us that there was a time—from the late 19th century into the early 20th century—when football was viewed as a sport of death, and campaigns across the country attempted to ban it from being played. The negative attention forced politicians and leading football figures to allow the forward pass, reducing some of the grinding play associated with a power running game. As a result, the cries for a ban eventually subsided, and the NFL has become one of the most successful sports organizations on the planet. But concussions continue to plague the game, and the magazine ponders what’s next as more debilitating head injuries—and deaths—are reported.
Former University of Colorado football star Ted Johnson was one of the first NFL players to speak out about such injuries. 5280‘s Robert Sanchez told Johnson’s story in an August 2009 feature that also appears in The Best American Sports Writing 2010.