Legendary sports newscaster Bob Costas says he believes that football will decline in popularity over the coming decades due to the danger of the sport.
On Nov. 7, Costas sat down with USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan and ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon at the University of Maryland's annual Shirley Povich Symposium, a roundtable discussion named after a former Washington Post sports columnist.
Costas, the longtime host of NBC's "Football Night in America" -- which the New York Daily News reports has had a 7.2 percent decline in viewership since 2016 -- said that the decline of football was the most powerful story in sports, according to USA Today.
"The cracks in the foundation are there," he told the panel. "The day-to-day issues, as serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football."
His fellow roundtable guests did not disagree. Kornheiser likened football to boxing -- which was popular for a time, but eventually saw its fanbase decline due to safety concerns.
"It’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen in five years or 10 years," Kornheiser said. "But Bob is right: at some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say: ‘I don’t want my kids to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out."
Kornheiser concluded that if football isn't made safe, which he doesn't believe will happen, the game will eventually die off.
Forbes sports contributor Maury Brown acknowledged that television ratings for the NFL have dipped, but said there are more reasons for the decline in viewership than the recent feud between President Trump and NFL players.
Among the issues contributing to lower viewership are an extensive number of games and fights between players and owners. Brown believes that these issues can be dealt with, but that player casualties are unavoidable.
"The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains," said Costas at the roundtable.
The sports broadcaster also said that the way that the NFL approaches player injury isn't good for it's brand: "The more information [that] comes out, the worse it looks."
He added that the "common sense solution" is to not let children under 18 play football. That solution, however, would likely create problems for the football recruiting system.
"Where’s the talent pool for college?" Costas questioned. "What happens to college football? The whole thing could collapse like a house of cards if people actually begin connecting the dots."