A recently released Bloomberg Politics poll has shown that 50% of Americans do not want their sons to play football, and just 17% of Americans are of the opinion that the sport will grow more popular in the next 20 years.
It's a tough time for football. Several National Football League players have been accused of domestic abuse; one team has a name that some news organizations will not print; and, most disturbingly, parents are becoming conscious of an increasing amount evidence that repeated blows to the skull can cause long-term brain damage, writes Annie Linskey for Bloomberg Politics.
Earlier this month, a league official was summoned to a Senate hearing to discuss these issues as well as the proposal made by some individual lawmakers to end the league's tax-exempt status and put its anti-trust exception up for a five year review. The findings suggest that in the future, football may become like boxing, an American sport that declined because of the changing reactions to the sport's brutality and the fact that its celebrity athletes have been so frequently in the headlines due to their violent crimes.
The survey showed that participants who made $100,000 or more a year believed that football would lose fans in the next twenty years. Over a quarter of college-educated respondents agree. Sixty-two percent of both groups did not want their children playing football.
"I just think it has become too dangerous," said Vince Vlasuk, 38, a consultant in Strongsville, Ohio, who is pushing his young boys to play soccer instead. "I don't think they have the equipment they need to protect themselves, particularly at the junior high and high school level."
Several football related deaths have been reported from high schools in New York, Alabama, and elsewhere. Also, injuries and the shrinking number of young players participating have cancelled scheduled games and, at times, shortened seasons.
Still, in the under 35 age group, 56% of parents said they want their sons to play, which is the highest of any of the demographic groups. In fact, it is almost twice the 29% of those 65 and older. There was a slightly larger number of Democrats who are against having their children play than Republicans, 52% to 47%. Fifty-eight percent of women do not want their children to participate as opposed to 41% of men. Tim Sacre, 58, of Tooele, Utah, a retired miner, is raising his two grandsons.
"It's a popular sport," he said. "It's fun for them." Safety, he said, is a "concern," but his young charges participate in another hair-raising activity. "One races motorcycles too, so football is nothing," he said.
And, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association's US Trends in Team Sports Report, tackle football participation fell off 21.1% from 2008-2013, with rugby and lacrosse having the biggest gains.
Scott Soshnick, writing for Bloomberg, reports that rugby participation rose 81% from 2008- 2013, and lacrosse grew 65.9% during that same time. Baseball enrollment fell 14.5% and basketball decreased by 9.3%.
The report also reported that the fastest growing sports for the 6-12 group are rugby, lacrosse, and ice hockey, while the sports at the top of the declining list are touch football, slow-pitch softball, and tackle football. In the 13-17 age group the number of participants are growing in lacrosse, cheerleading, and rugby, while wrestling, flag football, and paintball are on the downward spiral.
Some believe that football is not an endangered sport — one of whom is Bloomberg Politics reporter Will Leitch. His opinion is that those in the survey who believed that football was in trouble are not the ones who are going to keep football alive. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the league's concussion issue was a "journalist's problem", not a fans' problem. All the doomsday prophecies that say football will be gone in 20 years will not stop people from watching the game.
The interesting dilemma, according to Leitch, is that even football Hall of Famers do not want their children to play the game. But, their children will likely have options about the careers they can choose, because their fathers are educated and earn over $100,000 a year. Few people have these same circumstances.
Football and the military will have "a perpetual renewable recruitment resource in the poor," he writes. And, though the wealthy and educated say they do not want their children to play football, that does not mean that they do not want someone else's kids to play. Leitch opines that people can say they are concerned, but to fix the problem there has to be action rather than talk. He says he will believe it when he sees it.
PBS states that Dr. Ann McKee, a researcher who was interviewed in Frontline's League of Denial, found that even high school players were in danger of suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This degenerative brain disease can cause depression, loss of impulse control, memory loss, and dementia. In a 2013 study, it was found that high school players were almost twice as likely to suffer a concussion as college players.
New rules were released in 2012 for Pop Warner youth leagues to protect young players from concussions. When the league was asked why the new rules were created and why there had been a 9.5% fall in participation in the league, the organizations top medical officer, Julian Bailes, said it was because of concerns about head injuries.