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Is football on its deathbed?

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John Kass of the Chicago Tribune SAYS the answer to the question above is yes:

Football is dead in America.

Even through all the chatter and cheerleading and media hype, football as an American cultural institution lies in final spasm. It’s as dead as the Marlboro Man.

And if the professional game survives at all, it will be relegated to the pile of trash sports, like mixed martial arts or whatever is done in third-rate arenas with monster trucks and mud. It won’t be as American as apple pie. Instead, football will become the province of people with face tattoos.

Lawyers are circling football now. For years they’ve had their wings locked, cruising overhead, but lately they’ve swooped in low, landing and hopping over to take chunks out of the great billion-dollar beast.

But it’s not the lawyers who are the death of football. Blaming lawyers misses the point. Like their counterparts in nature, lawyers are merely the cleanup crew. What finishes football are the parents of future football players.

The NFL desperately needs American parents. Not as fans, but as suppliers of young flesh.

The NFL needs parents to send their little boys into the football feeder system. And without that supply of meat for the NFL grinder — first youth teams, then high school and college — there can be no professional football.

And yet every day, more American parents decide they’re finished with football. Why? Because parents can no longer avoid the fact that football scrambles the human brain.

In cultural terms, parents who send their 10-year-olds to play football might as well hold up signs saying they’d like to give their children cigarettes and whiskey…

Future historians may explain all this in terms of cultural change, of more information about concussions, spinal cord injuries, paralysis and brain damage, and another football killer, taxpayer liability.

(Snip)

Fans have been led to pretend that the violence is merely ancillary. But to say that violence isn’t at the heart of football is a lie. Remove the violence, and you remove what is great about the game, what is awe-inspiring and guilt-inspiring at the same time.

All sports can be dangerous. They involve physical and spiritual risk. But football is different from other team sports. It is designed to slam body against body, and often, head slams against head. There is no way to alter this fact, no way to spin it.

So if you’re wondering about the future of football during the NFL draft, try this experiment: Ask the parents of a little boy about tackle football, about concussions, and look into their eyes when they speak.

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14 Comments

  1. Soccer is the new football.

  2. I played football in college and my brain became left of center.

  3. Football isn’t dead.

    The money is too huge and people will always be willing to play. The quality of play will undoubtedly suffer as talented atheletes pursue other, less violent sports. But football has always been a violent sport.

    I have a high school friend who kept playing despite 2 ACL reconstructions in high school.
    Our local football team was state champion in Wisconsin this year and kids are falling all over themselves to be part of the football program starting at age 8.

  4. Expdoc: Kass isn’t arguing that it’s going to go away. He’s arguing that it’s place in our culture of sports is going to change. I’ve seen it written by others that it’s going to go the way of boxing, for example.

    I don’t know a soul in my circle of Gen X/Gen Y friends with kids that have put their kids in football. I know a few who have done flag football but that’s where it ends. It’s a ridiculously violent sport and if you haven’t played it or stood on the sidelines at a game, it’s very hard to understand that. When I was in my 20s, I dated a woman who was an athletic trainer for a local high school so I would stand on the sidelines at Friday night games. The velocity of the tackles at the HS level was stunning and that goes up exponentially in college and then takes a huge leap in the pros. It’s going to have to be altered significantly or it may indeed fade away.

  5. I have watched many Wisconsin football games from the sidelines and 1 Packer game as well. Football is very violent sport, but it remains at an all time high in popularity, at least when it comes to the NFL, college and the small town where I live.

    MMA like the UFC is also all about violence and is only growing in popularity.

    I am sure the NFL (and subsequently at other levels of football) will continue to make significant rule changes to decrease the risk of injury without totally ruining the game. Kickoffs and punts are likely the first victims.

  6. Neftali

    I usually agree with Kass, but he couldn’t be more wrong here. As a sport, it couldn’t be more popular. Especially when you consider the rise in the sport’s popularity among women in the past 20 years. (my wife can attest to this as she loves football)

    “among women 18 to 49, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the third-most-watched program in America, trailing only “Dancing With the Stars” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and beating shows like “Glee.” In fact, according to Nielsen, the number of women watching “Sunday Night Football ” has increased 23 percent over the last two years. ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/magazine/30FOB-wwln-t.html?_r=0

    Yes, the lawyers will come in and have their say with concussions and probably make a few bucks, but it will only be a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. Football, simply put, is the most popular sport on TV, indeed, one of the most popular things on TV period. The public demands it. College stadiums, many of which are larger than NFL stadiums, are routinely sold out. Consider the University of Michigan stadium at Ann Arbor. That thing usually seats over 100,000 people!!

    I love baseball. I love basketball. I love baseball, hockey, and golf. (I can’t stand soccer or Nascar) But football as a sport is simply far superior. Its everything rolled into one. Gigantic linemen, gazelle-like wide receivers, a field general quarterback, intimidating linebackers, coaches that have to be master psychologists. Its an intricate chess match, with many offensive and defensive coordinators being really good at studying chess strategy, and also strategies of strategies battles in war. Plus its the only popular sport that is routinely played in most adverse weather conditions, in fact, its often encouraged.

    Monkey may not have any friends that play football, but millions of families do. To many, its a right of passage. In Allen, Texas, they built a $60 million stadium, for HIGH SCHOOL! Entire family events are scheduled around high school football Friday, College football Saturday, NFL Sunday, and even NFL Monday night. Its beyond huge. Its not going away. To say its going the way of boxing is incredibly naive. Boxing was never this huge.

    Football is here to stay, and thank God for it.

  7. Pro football is going no where. Prep football I don’t see lasting. Plenty of people right now may still be putting their kids in football, but as we continue to learn about the effects less and less will be playing. Youth football will soon be a club sport.

    My little guy is old enough to play and I refuse to let him. Not a chance. We will have to see once he gets to high sch00l if something changes. He comes from an athletic family and would make a great safety/running back. Part of what would make him a great football player is also what scares me the most. Lil guy is fast and fearless. Fast and fearless when you are giving away 50 pounds to other 8 year olds isn’t good.

  8. The reason boxing fell out of favor was the boxing folks took all the good fights to pay per view and hbo. You use to be able to see some good fights on basic channels. Another reason boxing sucks now is all the different champions. Each weight class has like 4 belts. With 16 divisions and a possible 4 champs per division things are to watered down. Everyone is a champ. The other problem with boxing is the Klitschko brothers. They don’t get beat and their fights are boring. If america had a stud in the heavy weight class like the Klitschko brothers boxing would be doing ok.

    If you look at UFC they have fights on regular tv, cable, and pay per view. Their fighters fight more then twice a year. Limited weight classes and they have only one champ per weight class. Much easier to watch and keep up with then boxing.

  9. Brian Opsahl

    Joe,
    I coached JR.tackle for many years and I can tell you,if you have a well respected coach that will put the kids and there heath first,thats a good start,in all those years i only seen 2 kids get mild concusions,and the fact was that those 2 loved to hit people and bring contact.
    I recomend that if you do allow him to play at some point, go to all his practices in the begining to make sure the coaches are doing it the right way…My son had a neck injury that had me scared to death to let him play again,but I will be honest quietly I wanted him to give it up…he play’s baseball now and gets hiy by a pitch every once in a while but thats baseball right..!!

  10. The NFL is now the most popular sport in the history of america. The ratings are going up year after year, the Super Bowl is now a national Holiday, and revenue is well into the billions. By the way 15 tears ago most local Towns only had soccer and little league. I see what that did for those leagues. I would be proud if my son plays Highschool football just like I did. I played linebacker with no injuries and the greatest memories of my life.

  11. ware adams

    Fans and announcers love and crave football violence. Joe Namath called the game “mayhem on Sunday afternoon”. But the violence was a trickle of what it is today.
    Why the injuries? The Number One cause deals with the lack of any restriction on the weight of a player. If weight was limited to 250 lbs. and no more, the injuries would not be so serious. If the NFL sought to restrict weight, it would be like a knife pointed at what makes the game so popular: violence coupled with excessively heavy behemoths.
    Lawsuits will take their toll; but no court liabilities,yet, have reached the critical point of forcing the NFL to restrict weight.
    Finally, there are many players, a majority, who start in their teens to train for the violence and opportunity for quick mega-bucks in football. These “men” are quite willing to sacrifice what few brains they may have for the megabucks of a few years in the NFL.

  12. Neftali

    ware adams – You are using the typical stereotype that NFL players are dumb. They aren’t. Some go on to be prominent doctors, lawyers, politicians, businessmen, etc.

    Further, many of these players; especially those of a minority ethnicity, come from a very poor home. Is the promise of a huge payday worth a few brain cells to provide a better life for your family? For most people, that’s an easy “yes”.

    Finally, the weight limit is an intriguing idea. But 250 lbs is too small. For a person who is 6 foot 5, 250 lbs is not that big. So if anything using a metric like body mass index (BMI) would be a better starting point.

  13. Brain you can’t go wrong with baseball. My oldest daughter plays and loves it. She is small like her brother but hits the snot out of the ball. Played varsity her freshman year and hopes some day to play in college. Her size may keep the D1 schools away, but I feel she could walk on at any school she wants. Her bat will play at the next level.

    Softball and baseball are perfect sports because size doesn’t really matter. Ya the 8 year old fat kid can crush the ball when he is 8. When my daughter was young she couldn’t even get the ball out of the infield. But by the time kids hit high school everything seems to balance out.

    About the worst injury you will see playing little league baseball is a broken ankle or wrist from kids not knowing how to slide. Softball we have the issue of pitchers standing 38 feet from home once they release the pitch. I have seen a couple close calls with pitchers getting drilled. A majority now wear mask, but some tough girls don’t. Just last week a cary grove stud pitcher took a ball off the face that broke a few bones. Also last week a pitcher from highland park CC was drilled in the face. She wasn’t to hurt. The girls are catching up to boys in ability. Years ago we let girls do stuff the way girls did it. Now they are taught to throw like boys and we teach them to swing a bat like a man. My guess is you will see teams start requiring all infielders to wear mask. Like I said before my daughter is 5 foot and she crushes that ball. Just think of the power a 5′ 9″ girl could create with the same coaching. Of course they would need the good eye hand coordination but you get the idea.

    I actually have a younger daughter that should grow to about 5’9″+ when she is done growing and she loves softball. (not all my kids are midgets :)) At 5 years old her hands are as big as my high school aged daughter. She is already bigger then my 8 year old. I can’t wait for her to get a little older. She has the perfect body type for softball and she is already complaining she don’t get to practice enough. If she has the drive and eye hand coordination her older sister has, watch out. I tell people this one is different. I been coaching softball a long time and I have only seen one other kid that I knew was different.

    Kris in my area we have always had football for kids. I played youth football over 25 years ago. (man I’m getting old) And I’m just like you, i want to see my boy out their playing. I’m a sports nut. I’m not even sure nut comes close to explaining how much I love sports. Why even have a boy if he can’t play football. But it isn’t safe and I love my little guy to much to see him get dinged. Luck for me enjoys baseball as well. Someday he will play football but why risk it when he is 8? I started in 7th grade. I was a little behind the other kids but I caught up quickly. I started at wide receiver and defensive end by the first game. My oldest daughter didn’t start playing travel softball till she was 13. She to was behind but caught up. There is no need to rush kids into sports. The cream will always rise to the top. No kid is going to miss out on a college scholarship because they didn’t play football when they were 8. Now if you have a good coach like Brian talks about go for it. I doubt your kid is a mini like mine. Your kid may be the one doing the damage instead of taking it. Throw 50 pounds on my boy and I may of let him get out there and start destroying people. Right now I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to should little kids play football.

  14. nereo

    Tahts the mayor stupidness i have ever heard, if in 1905 it was saved, AND IT WAS MORE VIOLENT than now. It can be more parents that denies its sons to play but more than 300 millions and 4000 are players. And if the games extincts (Which wont be true), it will be the extinction of many towns that lives of football

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