X Games death is a future vision of the NFL

An X Games snowmobiler died Thursday. Some of your concern was measured in ratings points and prime-time appeal.

Which, is to say, not much compared to a real sport like football.

A death should never be diminished. Thoughts and prayers to Caleb Moore’s family but in this digital world our level of sadness/outrage/concern will likely fade by the weekend. Or shortly thereafter. After all, this isn’t the NFL. This was a 25-year old who died days after performing a snowmobile jump.

This should signal the end of contrived winter (and summer) made-for-TV sports. ESPN and its sponsors are not about to go out of business. No doubt Moore and whatever attorneys he employed signed an injury waiver. No harm, no foul, one gone. Do you care? It’s Super Bowl Week.

The NFL should. Bernard Pollard has predicted it. Pollard is the Ravens’ safety whose future vision sees the end of the NFL within 30 years. He sees the death of a player similar to what happened on those Aspen slopes.

“The only thing I'm waiting for, and, Lord, I hope it doesn't happen,” Pollard told CBSSports.com this week, “is a guy dying on the field. We've had everything else happen there except for a death. We understand what we signed up for, and it stinks.”

A football death? Now there's a tragedy. We as a sporting public care more about the nation’s most popular sport. And that's sad when a kid in a niche "sport" died because of the same problems that plauge the NFL: How to protect the participants.

An NFL death is coming. You know it’s coming. There’s no way to prevent it. There is no helmet in existence that can fully protect the human head. The game can be safer. It just can’t be totally safe.

In that sense the NFL is the X Games – with a bigger following, more tradition, more money and better lawyers. But not immune to a wreckless death.

It’s the value of death today that is doubly troubling. I doubt there will be Congressional hearings to review the safety of the X Games. They will simply shut down, a bad idea built on pre-packaged, flanneled, renegade appeal.

Now it’s deadly. Now it’s done.

When a death occurs in the NFL, the very fiber of our society will be examined. Already is. The punky QB, Jim McMahon, can’t remember where he left his keys. Junior Seau shot himself. There are examples everywhere in between – and they are multiplying by the day.

In that sense, the X Games are the NFL sped up. The danger of certain “winter action sports” is just being realized. We don’t need to see Shaun White turn four somersaults in the air. By, by God, we sure do enjoy a good blindside hit in football. It’s taken us decades of advances in medicine to recognize that danger.

Death is coming because the players aren’t going to slow down. The performance enhancers aren’t going to end. Death is coming and it may not be for a while but it could be Sunday. Pollard has seen into a future that isn’t pleasant.

Just because we don’t understand the X Games, its rules or even if it is sports matters little. You don’t need much research to determine that driving a 450-pound snowmobile off the lip of a snow bank has its risks. The NFL is in the process of figuring out its 450-pound snowmobile.   

Is it an injury waiver that exonerates the NFL from any liability? Is it back to two-hand touch?

The future, then, becomes a simple question: How much death will we tolerate? The Moore death should end the X Games. Few will care. What started in the 70s as “Battle of the Network Stars” where the only risk was wearing the wrong kind of polyester, has de-evolved into a snowball fight available in HD.

It was inventory, product, that had a valuable demographic. A death in the MMA may be next. That’s another under-regulated “sport” that appeals to some lucrative portion of the population or another.

Just please don’t make us decide on the quality of death where one athlete’s end is more important than another.

ESPN has some soul-searching to do. It – and other networks – glorified these trash sports. (Men’s halfpipe sounds like something you smoke.) But how is that different than glorifying the NFL? We’re just now seeing the long-term effects of someone’s definition of “manhood”. College football is just now coming to grips with the subject of concussions. It has hired its first chief medical officer and will establish a sports science institute.

Noble moves to be sure, but in college the bodies are not fully formed, perhaps more susceptible to catastrophic injury. The same class-action lawsuits that are hounding the NFL have to be headed the college way.

Twenty-five year old Caleb Moore died doing what he loved. No one forced him to do it. That will be part of the eulogy, one that will one day ring familiar for the highest-rated, most-watched sport there is.

Welcome to Bernard Pollard’s vision of the future NFL. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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