Ed Cunningham last week went public with the reason he walked away from his job as an ESPN color analyst. “But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain,” Cunningham told the New York Times. “To me, it’s unacceptable.”
The last game Cunningham called for ESPN was last season’s Outback Bowl between Iowa and Florida. And, as Cunningham told the Times, Iowa’s handling of quarterback C.J. Beathard in that game gave Cunningham the push out the door he was looking for:
The last straw, he said, was working the Outback Bowl in December, when he saw the Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard hobbled, taking hits and being left in the game until the final two minutes of a 30-3 blowout loss to Florida. Beathard went on to be taken in the third round of the N.F.L. draft by the San Francisco 49ers. The bowl game (“a game that means less than zero,” Cunningham said) still rankles Cunningham.
“I know some of the coaches from that team, known them for years,” he said. “And it was hard for me not to walk down after the game and just say: ‘Dudes, what are you doing? Really? What are you doing?’ These are just kids.”
Cunningham teared up again. “I get emotional,” he said.
While most of Cunningham’s comments were hypothetical for the nation and the sport of football at large, in Iowa City they were specific. As such, Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz responded in kind with a prepared statement pushing back against Cunningham’s criticism.
For what it’s worth, Beathard’s career was not damaged from whatever punishment he took in January. He was named the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback and raced to the longest run from scrimmage in the entire NFL preseason.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 1, 2017
Cunningham’s comments were the equivalent of accusing Ferentz and the Iowa staff with coaching malpractice in the most serious regard, so it makes sense Iowa would respond in kind.