In the distant future of 2113 ...
Robert Griffin V leans his cane against the side table and slowly sits down onto the sofa.
He rubs his knees for a second before looking up with the smile that has been his trademark since his playing days in the NFL for the adidas Jaguars of Los Angeles.
He smacks his lips together before he speaks, the lines on his face contorting in a grumpy grimace of pain.
“It all started out well, enough. But the game got too fast. Then, all of a sudden, it got too small. And then poof, it was just gone,” he says as he claps his two hands together, as if he was making an explosion.
His knees are shot and he has suffered from multiple concussions over the years, but Griffin is still charismatic, much like his grandfather was, the greatest player ever to play the game — RGIII, the winner of four Super Bowls and six NFL MVPs.
“Ha, I guess it skips a generation,” Griffin V said. “My father, he was an accountant. Maybe he was the lucky one. His knees are fine.”
He laughs for a second. “Where was I?,” he asks. RGV can’t hold his focus for long these days.
Not in the last 40 years anyway.
“I think you were talking about your father and his good knees,” I remind him.
The game, Griffin goes on to explain, kept evolving.
The NFL kept getting more violent as athletes got faster, the hits harder and the injuries more severe.
But as always, that was the appeal.
Even in the 2010’s, there were claims of long-term effects such as depression, dementia and suicide, such as the suicides of former star NFL linebacker Junior Seau and former Chicago Bears great Dave Duerson. In 2012, a study revealed NFL players have triple the risk of having neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.
In July 2013, a hearing in a federal courtroom was held, involving 4,100 plaintiffs in 222 consolidated lawsuits.
But nothing changed. The money was still too big.
Then came “The Hit.”
Griffin V, after winning two Super Bowls and three MVPs in his first seven seasons with the Jaguars, was standing in the pocket, now a 29-year-old pocket passer after multiple ACL tears — much like his grandfather — where it was supposed to be safe.
But it wasn’t.
Griffin was hit high by a New York Giants defensive end and low by a defensive tackle.
He was never the same again. After Griffin V went down, adidas began lobbying. It wanted the game to be less violent, its multimillion dollar investments more protected.
The marketing became too big to let athletes get injured. The battle between athletic apparel companies Nike and adidas became even more intense.
The game evolved quickly after that, until it was not what it once was. First quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit. The quarterback sack went the way of the wishbone offense.
Eventually, all tackling was outlawed and it became a version of what adidas began developing down in Texas, 7-on-7 football. In the early 2010’s, the company invested millions into the game, hoping to market to the next generation of athletes. It outfitted everyone in its gear and gave millions of dollars in free merchandise to prospective athletes, hoping to find an in with the next RGIII before he was even out of high school. Some 60 years later, it was focused on protecting that same investment. Nike, too, joined in the fray and the two pumped more than a billion dollars into changing the game.
Forty years later, the game of football was dead.
The stadiums ceased filling when the hits stopped coming. The TV contracts that were once bloated beyond belief, disappeared.
Now, the stadiums sit like the Acropolis in Greece, unused and unkempt. In the appropriately named Coliseum in Los Angeles, the grass is knee high, but the marks are still burned into the field — three slashes.
Griffin V was one of the last to play “real” football; the gladiator-style version that sent thousands of athletes to the hospital every year with severe brain trauma — concussions as they called them then.
His body paid the toll.
Griffin V reaches out as he tries to stand, putting his other hand out for help.
His son, Robert Griffin VI, played adidas’ new version of 7-on-7 football — so much for skipping a generation. Unlike the other Griffins before him, he was never a household name, though.
He never had an apparel company fighting for his marketing rights. Griffin VI never appeared in a video game. The picture of perfect health, he couldn’t be happier as he stands in the foyer of his grandfather’s house, holding his son. He smiles as he puts Robert VII down and reaches to help his father off the sofa.
Griffin V grabs his cane, kisses his grandson on the head and says, “Some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.”
Contact Nick Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569