As we celebrate Super Bowl 50, I wonder if there will be a Super Bowl 100. The inconvenient truth of Will Smith’s movie “Concussion” — about the festering issue of CTE brain injury — is just the latest revelation about the dark side of the game. The long-term effects of concussions have caused former players to sue, promising rookies to retire and parents to discourage their children from playing the sport. A recent Time cover story about the death of a high school football player titled “Is Football Worth It?” makes one wonder how long we, as a society, will put up with it.
Having written the sci-fi novel “Ultra Bowl” about an NFL team being “time-napped” into the future, I’ve thought a lot about football. And a strong argument can be made that concerns about football safety, combined with advances in technology, will profoundly change the game. If there’s a Super Bowl 100, it likely will be played by robots.
Robot football would be a logical extension of many current trends in our tech-enabled world. Robots drive our cars, fly our planes, grow our food. What won't they be doing 50 years from now?
Technology has allowed us to outsource many aspects of our lives. Computers and apps increasingly do our thinking, Google our remembering, Facebook and Twitter our socializing and drones our fighting. Eventually, we may outsource the violence in football.
Here’s how it could happen. As the world economy becomes increasingly dependent on robotics, corporate America will realize that robot football is the perfect marketing vehicle. If the Super Bowl is now the most prized, viewed and expensive ad space, a football game played by robots, showcasing the latest technological advances, would be one big ad. The game could determine tech supremacy and drive market share. It’s not hard to imagine how decades from now the financial interests of Wall Street might join a growing segment of Main Street — for whom football is too violent — to make robot football not only plausible, but probable.
So, next time you see the Fox NFL mascot “Cleatus the Robot,” ask yourself: Is it a harbinger of things to come? It’s hard to imagine our NFL warriors no longer going head-to-head on future Sundays, but 2,000 years ago the mighty Romans believed their gladiators would still be fighting to the death today.
Why should the speculations of a sci-fi author be taken seriously? Since Jules Verne wrote about submarines in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” in the late 19th century, writers have imagined what tomorrow might bring. They often were right: credit cards, radar, solar power, voicemail, virtual reality, even atomic bombs were first imagined by science fiction writers. Who knows, I may be one of them.
I. J. Weinstock attended the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and now lives in Huntington, N.Y. (ultrabowlbook.com).