The Future of American Football by Austin Smith
Football is one of the most beloved games in America. Each year, millions of people around the US gravitate towards football because of the excitement, intensity, and entertainment that accompany this gritty sport.
Our collective love for this game has made it the most popular sport in America. Currently, 64% of Americans watch professional football on a regular basis, and 73% of American men say they watch football daily. In comparison, only 37% and 45% of Americans, respectively, watch professional baseball and professional basketball with regularity.
But all this begs the question- how did football grow to attain such an important position in the American conscience?
Football has been played in America since the 1800s as an evolution of the sport of rugby. Naturally, spirited amateurs from all ages played this game for fun and enjoyment, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that football became an organized, yearly sport with financial compensation for its athletes. Officially founded in 1920, the National Football League (NFL) aimed to create the premier sport for Americans to watch. Thus, it organized salaries, prohibited college players from participating, created a yearly schedule, and established rules to govern the sport. In addition, the NFL allowed for football games to be scheduled ahead of time, which facilitated the development of “hype,” and further allowed for games to be broadcasted over the radio and on TV. These decisions correlated to a drastic increase in popularity, such that by 1965, football surpassed baseball as the most popular sport in America. This is where football has remained ever since.
Many critics have praised the NFL for its consistency, and for its success at creating the most profitable sport in America. However, many other critics do not view the organization through such rose-tinted glasses. For example, Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell stated that “the NFL doesn’t have a PR problem. It has a reality problem. And it may be a grave one. Every month – and it seems every few days – the NFL is inundated by new, barely suspected revelations. What has the NFL become?” These “revelations,” or exposures, that Boswell refers to are the rampant injuries that accompany the decline in the appreciation for and participation in the sport, and which could potentially lead to the demise of football in America.
The reality is that football can cause serious, life-threatening head injuries. Head injuries as minor as a single concussion can cause long term memory and attention defects, confusion, depression, sleep apnea, difficulty learning, mood swings, migraines, and… the list continues on. Moreover, this terrible injury happens far too often. At least 2% of college football athletes suffer from a concussion each year. These rates are lower at the pop warner and high school level, but they still happen too frequently, clearly begging the question- is it worth it to endanger a child’s welfare over a game? For many parents, the answer is starting to become “no.” For example, from 2010 to 2012 pop warner football membership decreased by 9.5%. Based on these rates, football is already losing prominence at lower ages. Many critics have stated that this is just the beginning, and that this trend will only continue across all age demographics. With a decrease in player participation, lower levels such as pop warner and high school football could succumb to sloppy and less interesting play, in turn making games less enjoyable to watch.
Furthermore, the copious injuries that characterize high school, college, and pro football games can decrease the pleasure that football games are supposed to bring for observers. John Smith, a former high school offensive tackle and father of two boys, says, “Seeing my children getting concussions from football and seeing my friends’ children suffer injuries from football has really ended my love of watching the game of football.” Many parents share John Smith’s opinions and now believe that this violent game isn’t worth watching if it can lead to the demise of a young child’s future. Anecdotes such as this one are becoming more common across America and could be an important factor explaining why people stop watching and appreciating the game of football.
Inevitably, more parents are going to begin questioning if it’s worth it to have their son or daughter play football, and this issue is only going to grow in prominence as more research is done. As a society, we have to make a decision on whether encouraging the youth to participate in this sport is right or wrong. Most people reading this will be future parents; would you risk your child’s future for a game?