This week we had Ravens center Matt Birk, a Harvard graduate, wondering aloud if he had damaged his brain by playing 15 seasons in the NFL, while his hard-hitting teammate Bernard Pollard predicted that the league would no longer exist in 30 years. All of that came in the wake of news that former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that had also afflicted at least three other ex-NFL suicides.

Birk and every other player in the league now know that his question was purely rhetorical: The National Institutes of Health has autopsied the brains of 34 deceased NFL players, and 33 of them were diagnosed with CTE. Even more recently, a new study has found evidence of measurable brain damage in five living former players, one of whom was a backup quarterback who played in only a handful of NFL games. It’s pretty simple: If you play football, you will suffer brain injury…

Just as the Church in America will never be the same after the sexual abuse scandals, America’s dominant sport will never reclaim the air of cartoonish, ‘roided-up unreality it had a few years ago, when no one in sports journalism knew how to spell “encephalopathy.” All the loudness and emptiness of the Super Bowl spectacle can’t conceal the aura of doubt around the future of the game, or the collective shock of our discovery that the endpoint of this gladiatorial combat is actual death. Football is a central ingredient in the American narrative of masculinity, and it’s also the zillion-dollar linchpin of network television. But in case you haven’t heard the news, both those institutions are in crisis. Is it hard to imagine America without football? Yeah, but it’s time to start. It’s a killing game, and we have to let it die.