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Rick Snider: The NFL is not too big to fail

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Sports,NFL,Ravens,Rick Snider

Fear the lawyers.

If the NFL disappears 30 years from now, as Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard predicts, less violence won't be the reason. Nor will it be decreased participation due to parental fears of injury that had even President Obama pondering what he'd do if he had a son.

No, it will be the mass tort lawyers whose lawsuits have inspired "dangerous when hot" on coffee cups, "may irritate eyes" on pepper spray canisters, "caution -- risk of fire" on fire logs and other nonsensical warnings that threaten the NFL most. Indeed, the concussion lawsuit filed by more than 3,000 former NFL players may bring radical changes to football from pee-wees to pros.

Higher insurance premiums if the ex-players win the suit could end youth football. Look for a "Friday Night Lights" blackout, with only private high schools surviving with $20 tickets. Smaller colleges could stop playing. If football revenues drop, other sports disappear, too.

The pros will have a smaller, less experienced player pool, diluting the product. Combined with increased safety measures, less violence and poorer play will turn off fans.

The NFL's demise can happen. You don't see Roman gladiators around anymore. Boxing and horse racing, which once ruled the sports landscape 60 years ago, now barely have a pulse.

The concussion case, which is still years from resolution, could change everything. Sadly, the NFL and NFLPA's abandonment of former players forced the lawsuit that now has attorneys ambulance-chasing everyone that ever donned a helmet.

Some former players join the suit because, after all, they built the league without making big money. It's now payback and payoff time. That's sad because players who truly need medical assistance may get lost in a gold rush.

Insurance companies will run scared from covering sports, down to youth leagues. That means only wealthy schools will continue playing. Parents won't be able to cover equipment and insurance costs for youth leagues and will switch their kids to soccer.

The European model of sports academies instead of school sports may be the future. Football will become an occupation for 16-year-olds. Basketball already lures teens to AAU teams and private schools over their neighborhood school.

The loss of youth teams will create a generation less involved with football, which will lead to less passionate pro fans. The NFL is already reeling from smaller crowds with future stadiums expected to offer less seating. The league may have already seen its pinnacle domestically, which is why a London franchise seems attractive as a gateway to Europe.

The NFL is not too big to fail. The league needs to resolve the concussion case before it collapses the sport. Americans are always willing to move on to something else. Ask the movie industry.

Life without the NFL doesn't seem possible. And yet, history proves it is.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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