There is no denying football is a dangerous game. So dangerous in fact, it's difficult for some people to watch. Such is the case with Ed Cunningham, a twenty-year color analyst for college football on ABC and ESPN.
At the age of 48, Cunningham resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with participating in the promotion of a game that he deems too barbaric. For years he's been watching the damage being inflicted on the players and he's finally said enough is enough.
"I don't see them as products anymore, I see them as kids."- longtime CFB analyst Ed Cunningham on why he's walking away from the booth. pic.twitter.com/ZdmqOfP2BX— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) August 31, 2017
The game will go on without him, and his leaving might not change a thing as far as the sport and its safety issues are concerned, but to apparently appease his own good conscience, he had to separate himself from something he's been living and breathing for ages. Cunningham is a former player, turned broadcaster, but as a father, he just couldn't separate his job as an analyst from the concern for athletes he sees as kids.
There isn't much in the way of precedent for a move like this. Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a safety related reason — one where was not an active participant, but because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the destruction. To him, he was literally earning a paycheque from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants, thus he felt he had no choice.
But, is this really what his departure is all about? As much as this sounds like a move made in good principle, not everyone seems to agree that this "safety issue" is the motivating reason behind Cunningham's leaving.
Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his highly opinionated criticisms of the game and the hits being delivered in it. He's called coaches irresponsible and not made many friends by accusing those close to the game for endangering the health of the athletes. He's long been the target angry fans, coaches, and administrators. That's not an easy role to take on.
Others have hinted that after a series of layoffs at ESPN, Cunnigham may have seen the writing on the wall. He was allegedly asked to take a hefty pay cut and instead of doing so, found this a legitimate way to walk away from the game before being forced away.
In Cunnigham's defense, the long-term viability of football hinges on making the game safer. Young kids are being held out of joining neighborhood leagues simply due to the associated violence, and if the game can't encourage new players to take the place of departing ones, there are no future greats to keep the game alive.
The game isn't at this stage of panic yet, but perhaps Cunningham's leaving signifies a serious crossroads.