Ed Cunningham, a college football analyst and prominent color commentator for Saturday collegiate games featured on ESPN and ABC, recently revealed that he stepped away from the broadcast booth for good over his serious concerns with the way football affects the brains of young athletes.
"In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear," Cunningham said in an interview with the New York Times that published on Wednesday. "But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable."
"I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport," he added. "I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot."
Some football players have parted ways with the sport early, out of fear that they may be subject to the harsh realities and consequences as a result of the violent nature of the game. Many retired players were eventually diagnosed with a brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as C.T.E. A recent study by the Times concluded that 110 former NFL players were found to have the disease. There were 202 players that were studied.
The Times noted that Cunningham may be the first broadcaster to publicly leave out of safety concerns:
As a color analyst, primarily providing commentary between plays, Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his pointed criticism toward what he thought were reckless hits and irresponsible coaching decisions that endangered the health of athletes. His strong opinions often got him denounced on fan message boards and earned him angry calls from coaches and administrators.
Cunningham explained that as the cases of brain trauma began to roll out publicly, his feelings on the game changed dramatically.
He also pointed out that many fans of the sport may not know how to react or feel about these issues.
"I know a lot of people who say: 'I just can’t cheer for the big hits anymore. I used to go nuts, and now I’m like, I hope he gets up,'" he said. "It’s changing for all of us. I don’t currently think the game is safe for the brain. And, oh, by the way, I’ve had teammates who have killed themselves. Dave Duerson put a shotgun to his chest so we could study his brain."
Football has been a major component of Cunningham's life. After winning a national championship in 1991, he played professional football as an offensive lineman in the NFL for five seasons. Afterwards, he took on a new role in the booth as a commentator.
Mike Patrick, Cunningham's broadcast partner for the better part of the last decade expressed nothing but support for his departing partner.
"I could hardly disagree with anything he said," Patrick told the Times. "The sport is at a crossroads. I love football — college football, pro football, any kind of football. It’s a wonderful sport. But now that I realize what it can do to people, that it can turn 40-, 50-year-old men into walking vegetables, how do you stay silent? Ed was in the vanguard of this. I give him all the credit in the world. And I’m going to be outspoken on it, in part because he led me to that drinking hole."