Longtime ESPN and ABC anchor Ed Cunningham quit his job just before the start of college football season over concerns about players’ safety.
It seems that after more than two decades of covering football, his conscience got the best of him.
“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” Cunningham reportedly told The New York Times in an interview published Wednesday. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”
According to Uproxx, Cunningham cited traumatic brain injuries as one of the key factors in his decision. As a former professional player himself, he said the physical toll that football takes on the body is too severe.
“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham said. “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.”
In the interview, Cunningham reportedly became emotional while discussing how findings from research on these injuries has even put fans of the sport in a conflicted position, not knowing whether to cheer when a player gets hit or fear for them.
“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,’” Cunningham said. His eyes welled with tears. “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.”
Duerson played with Cunningham for the Arizona Cardinals in 1992 and 1993, when they were the Phoenix Cardinals. Duerson committed suicide in 2011 and upon studying his brain, it was found that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE has been found posthumously in the brains of many contact sport athletes, including professional hockey players, but is seen mostly in football players who frequently take blows to the head.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a whopping 99 percent of the brains of deceased NFL players that were donated to research showed signs of CTE.
Out of 111 brains of men who played in the NFL, all but one of them showed traces of CTE.
As research continues to bring evidence to light proving how dangerous football is, it is becoming increasingly difficult for players and fans alike to continue supporting the popular sport that has become a staple in American culture.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters, Mike Segar