Ed Cunningham Doesn’t Support CTE So He’s Walking Away From Football

    It seems as if Colin Kaepernicks refusal to hold his tongue and put his head in the sand and just get paid is influencing NFL people in non-player capacities as well. While Kaepernicks protest and subsequent blackballing isnt directly responsible for ESPN and ABC college football analyst Ed Cunninghams resignation in the prime of a flourishing and coveted broadcasting career, the quarterback’s bravery and leadership definitely inspires people within the NFL community and abroad to follow their hearts. 

    Cunningham called most televised Saturday afternoon college football games alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Patrick on ESPN and ABC over the last ten years. On Wednesday Cunningham resigned because of his growing discomfort with the players’ health and safety due to the sport. 

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    His conscience and his struggle with the gift and curse of football has prevailed over his thirst for his job and his career. Cunningham, explained his reasoning in an interview with John Branch of The New York Times

    I know a lot of people who say: I just cant cheer for the big hits anymore,” Cunningham revealed. “I used to go nuts, and now Im like, I hope he gets up, Cunningham said. His eyes welled with tears. Its changing for all of us. I dont currently think the game is safe for the brain. And, oh, by the way, Ive had teammates who have killed themselves.”

    The 48-year-old former captain of the Washington Huskies 1991 national championship team also did a five-year bid with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. Cunningham has served as a color commentator on ESPN and ABC for the past two decades, but the death of his former Arizona Cardinals teammate Dave Duerson is what really sparked Cunninghams change of heart. Duerson killed himself with a shotgun in 2011and it was discovered that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

    At that moment, the effects of CTE hit so close to home that Cunningham could no longer ignore it and began to feel differently about the game he played and loved most of his life. 

    In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear, Cunningham told Branch.  But the real crux of this is that I just dont think the game is safe for the brain. To me, its unacceptable.

    As the facts started rolling in about the effects of CTE , culminating with the latest shocking study published in Journal of the American Medical Association in July, identifying CTE in the brain of 110 out of 111 former NFL players, Cunningham  rolled out and left behind a six-figure salary with the network.

                                                               

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    I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport, he said. I can just no longer be in that cheerleaders spot.

    According to usports.org, not everyone agrees with Cunningham’s decision. Other O.G. football announcers like Al Michaels – in his fourth decade broadcasting NFL games – dont seem to believe there are any ethical issues with the nature of their career.

    I dont feel that my being part of covering the National Football League is perpetuating danger, Michaels said in a phone interview. If its not me, somebody else is going to do this. There are too many good things about football, too many things I enjoy about it. I can understand maybe somebody feeling that way, but Id be hard-pressed to find somebody else in my business who would make that decision.

    That debate will rage on like so many others, but when stripped to the bare bones, what we have is another individual associated with the NFL community that is sacrificing his career for a cause that he feels deeply about. Refusing to support and celebrate something that is loved by millions but is a death sentence on ones brain. 

    That kind of selflessness and principled existence is becoming a trend in the NFL community.  

    JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.